Just how many birds are there in the Channel Islands?

Kestrel and Elizabeth Castle. Photo by Romano da Costa

While the Channel Islands definitely doesn’t rival somewhere like Peru or Kenya for the size of its bird fauna there is still a nice variety to be getting on with. Our Islands are only small and close to the continent so birds may wander over and be gone again the same day. This means too that it’s never easy to say exactly how many species may be present on any one day.

These small islands do, however, have quite a good variety of habitats. So, while the bird fauna may not be large, it can be nicely varied. Even a brief trip out can reward the observer with seabirds, woodland birds and shorebirds within a few minutes. If not all at the same time: in fact there are few spots where you can’t hear oystercatchers or see a gannet off in the distance! You know you’re not far from the sea when the song thrushes and starlings mimic the shorebirds.

So, exactly how many bird species are there? The Working List of Channel Islands Birds has been updated this week and shows that, overall, 369 birds have been recorded. Not each of the islands has seen them all of course so the highest number for just one island is the 326 recorded in Jersey. The list shows where there are some very interesting anomalies – birds that may be very common on one island may be very rare or absent on another.

Jay. Photo by Mick DrydenObserver coverage is often low in parts, and certainly Alderney and Sark could be better covered than they have been at times. Both these islands have a dearth of seabird records that may be through too few birders but Sark’s shortage of shorebirds may be more down to its paucity of beaches. And it’s lack of wetlands. More interesting are the natural variations. Brent geese stick mostly to Jersey, but so too does this bird’s principal food, eelgrass. Harder to explain are the unequal distributions of magpies (effectively absent from Alderney) and jay (a common resident in Jersey and a vagrant elsewhere). Great spotted woodpecker and stock dove are relatively recent colonists to the islands which might explain why they have only a toe hold in Alderney and Guernsey while they are widespread and common in Jersey.

Pallas’s leaf warbler. Photo by Mick DrydenInterestingly, rare visitors too show an unequal distribution. Jersey has never recorded a Pallas’s leaf warbler while Guernsey has had 15. In Guernsey a little bunting would cause a stir whereas in Jersey they are almost annual. Amongst those birds to have avoided Jersey but put in appearances on the northern islands, snowy owl may have caused the most disappointment. Everyone loves a snowy owl!

The Working List is published each year from contributions by each of the islands. Each record has been accepted by the local ornithological committees and contacts of these are included. Please submit your sightings to each island. The list details each species and includes a summary table and, updated annually, one highlight is the taxonomic changes that are included each year. There have, over recent years been some major revisions to taxonomy and to many species’ position in the list. This year is no different – see how long it takes you to see where the falcons went this year. There may be splits too (think carrion/hooded crow or stonechats in recent years) but this year there haven’t been any. One disappointment, however, with the latest list is that the total hasn’t changed since 2012. It will have by the next update though!

As this is all good science, the understanding of avian biogeography, the monitoring of distributional and population changes etc., there can not be anything as unscientific as inter-island rivalry. And of course there isn’t. Although that one extra bird in the Jersey total is looking very vulnerable!

Download the full list here

Little bunting. Photo by Mick Dryden



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