Chough report: August 2021

Just in case their calls were not loud enough. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Breeding season roundup

Don’t let the sound of a begging youngster fool you. The 2021 chicks are now fully independent. They just like to try their hand (or wing) once in a while with their parents.

Four youngsters have survived. This is a disappointing number although four is better than none. Thankfully, each from a different family which helps a little to spread the genetics around. Speaking of which, their DNA sexing results came in at the start of August. We have one male and three females. They all have names now too:

Rocky, breaking gender conformity with his bright pink leg ring, is the offspring of Dusty and Chickay.

Rémi, as reported last month, is wild-hatched Minty and Rey‘s first chick. She might be a St Ouen parishioner, but certainly isn’t seen as an outsider by the St John residents. 

Wally Jnr. shares a lot of characteristics with her mother Wally when she was a fledgling at the aviary. There may have been a Kevin Jnr. but we never managed to sample the second chick before it perished.

Monvie is Bo and Flieur‘s girl who sports a mauve over yellow ring. Her name is taken from the Jèrriais greeting Man vyi meaning my old mate/friend (if addressing a woman it is Ma vielle). Its pronounced a little like you are saying ‘mauvey’ which helps to remember her leg ring colour. Learn more about the language at L’Office du Jèrriais.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the body of the missing fifth chick was found by Ronez Quarry staff on the 16th. We ringed it on 30th June so we knew it was Dusty’s and now know it was male. Judging from the state of the body he had died when we first reported it absent from the feed.

Two breeding pairs at Sorel resting in the rocky shade. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not all of the breeding pairs survived the season. We lost a male resulting in a ‘divorce’ of another pair and the re-joining of old flames. It also looks like we have lost the female who roosted and tried building a nest in Trinity. She has not been seen anywhere since early summer. 

All being well, we will have two new pairings attempt to nest in 2022 bringing it to eleven pairs. The same as in 2021 despite our losses.

West is best

View of Grosnez with the other Channel Islands on the horizon. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs still preferred to hang out on the north west coast in August. Who could blame them with the views.

Cliffs from Grosnez to Plémont are frequently visited by choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not to mention the ‘playground’ that is Les Landes with the racecourse, stables, paddocks, rooftops, and scattered WW2 German-made structures.

As long as they keep out of the way of the occasional model aircraft and, more permanent, resident peregrines!

This peregrine at Grosnez might be more familiar with choughs than I would like. Photo by Liz Corry.

Food for thought

From March to July this year we had a student placement working on the project. Riccardo rose to the challenge of re-establishing our breeding colony of mealworms for the supplemental feed.

We have never really had enough continuity and/or success to fully rely on in-house production. We buy in 1.5kg-2kg of mealworms per week from the UK to supplement the choughs’ diet. We get a discount since it comes with the bulk order for Jersey Zoo’s residents. Yet this still equates to hundreds of pounds a year.

Thanks to Riccardo’s efforts we might be making a breakthrough. After a month of breeding we have produced about 500g of mealworms. Not enough to cancel the UK order, but it should keep our costs down.

There is potential to expand the operation…providing a certain DIY store continues to stock our ‘high-tech’ housing facility aka drawers.

Mealworm breeding setup for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

It’s a delicate balance of temperature, humidity, and the right amount of nutrients appropriate for each of the four life stages. Fingers crossed; we can continue Riccardo’s good work now he has returned home to Italy.

Next time you see an advert for ITV’s I’m a Celebrity….just think about the effort and expense that goes into raising mealworms. And then the waste!

Don’t worry, birds won’t become dependent on you feeding them

From Good News Network

Oregon State University researchers have some good news for those of us well-meaning who place bird feeders in their gardens: the small songbirds who visit the feeders seem unlikely to develop an unhealthy reliance on them.

“There’s still much we don’t know about how intentional feeding might induce changes in wild bird populations, but our study suggests that putting out food for small birds in winter will not lead to an increased dependence on human-provided food,” said Jim Rivers, an animal ecologist with the OSU College of Forestry.

Around the globe each year, hundreds of millions of people put out food for wildlife, including 50 million in the United States alone, driving a $4 billion industry based on food, feeders, and other accessories.

But the popular pastime has long raised concerns about making animals dependent on human-provided food—especially during wintertime and other parts of the annual cycle that require animals to expend a lot of energy.

“The extensive and widespread nature of people intentionally feeding wildlife can have unintended consequences for free-ranging animal populations, and those consequences are best documented in birds,” Rivers said.

“On the negative side, it can facilitate disease transmission, restructure local communities, and alter migration behavior, for example. There’s even evidence that it can lead to changes to birds’ bill structure. On the other hand, it can also have positive effects, such as enhanced body condition, wintertime survival, and reproductive output.”

Bird feeding is especially popular in the northern latitudes, particularly during winter, when cold, stormy weather and minimal daylight reduce the time that birds have for locating natural foods. But not much is known, Rivers said, about whether birds become reliant on the feed their human friends put out for them.

“The only manipulative experiment to test that, using the black-capped chickadee (a species similar to the great tit), was 30 years ago,” he said. “It found no reductions in apparent survival after removal of bird feeders that had provided supplemental food in winter for 25 years, leading to the conclusion that bird feeding did not promote feeder dependency.”

Rivers and colleagues studied the feeder use habits of 67 black-capped chickadees subjected to one of three flight-feather-clipping treatments: heavy clipping, light clipping or, as the control, no clipping. Experimental removal of primary flight feathers is an established technique for altering wing loading and increasing the energy costs of flight, Rivers said.

The birds were tagged with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, and 21 bird feeders along a 3.2 kilometre riparian zone were filled with sunflower seeds and equipped with chip readers to measure feeder visits by tagged birds.

Scientists chose the chickadee because it is a small songbird (it weighs less than half an ounce) that frequents bird feeders during winter throughout its range; has high daily energy requirements; and typically takes one seed at each feeder visit, allowing for a clear measure of feeder visitation rate.

“It’s an ideal species for evaluating how energetic challenges lead to behavioural changes in feeder use during winter,” Rivers said. “Our study found that the experimentally handicapped chickadees, those experiencing elevated flight costs, did not increase their rates of visitation to the feeders.”

Instead, feather-clipped birds actually decreased their feeder use for a couple of weeks— possibly to reduce exposure to predation—but after that used the feeders at levels similar to the unclipped control birds. The researchers looked at number of feeder visits, number of feeders used and timing of feeder visits and found little difference between clipped and non-clipped chickadees.

“Feather-clipped chickadees reducing their use of feeders relative to control birds suggests that foods in the environment—like seeds, berries and small invertebrates—were sufficiently available to compensate for increased flight costs and allowed them to cut back on feeder use,” Rivers said.

“It’s clear that the chickadees in our study did not increase their visitation rates nor did they increase their reliance on supplemental feed during a period when they might have benefited from it the most.”

The paper Experimentally induced flight costs do not lead to increased reliance on supplemental food in winter by a small songbird can be accessed here

Garden bird feeders are boosting blue tit numbers – but leaving other species hungry

From The Conversation

We’ve filled feeders with seeds and nuts since many of us were children and loved seeing which birds arrive. And, we’re not alone – around half of all UK households do the same nowadays, spending £250 million on 150,000 tonnes of bird food each year. That’s enough to feed three times the breeding populations of the ten commonest garden species if they ate nothing else all year, with one feeder for every nine birds that use them.

Have you ever wondered how all of that additional food might be affecting wild birds? How much has our generosity changed their natural diet, and what of the bird species we don’t see visiting garden feeders?

If you live in the UK and the Channel Islands, one garden visitor you’re probably used to seeing is the blue tit. Blue tits are small, fast and often feed high in trees on tiny insects. Seeing exactly what they eat is tough. But with new molecular technology, it has been possible to test blue tit faeces from 39 woodlands across Scotland – some close to houses, some on remote mountainsides and some by the sea – and gain a fascinating insight into their average diet.

What was found, came as a surprise. A small moth caterpillar (Argyresthia goedartella) that lives on birch trees was their most common natural prey item, present in a third of the faeces sampled. But among hundreds of species of insect prey, there was also garden bird food – and lots of it.

Peanuts were present in half of all the faeces – the most common food item for Scottish blue tits – and sunflower seeds in a fifth. And the birds weren’t just popping next door to find these garden treats. Some were travelling as much as 1.4km from remote areas to nibble on their favourite garden snacks. Clearly this has become part of their staple diet.

A blue tit bonanza

Eating the food we provide gives blue tits more energy to lay eggs – five days earlier than blue tits that don’t. These earlier breeders are likely to raise more healthy chicks. Eating bird food was also linked to a nearly four-fold increase in the proportion of adults available to breed in a given area. Where there used to be one pair of blue tits nesting, garden bird feeders nearby meant there was now likely to be almost four pairs sharing the same space.

Other woodland species such as great tits, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers that enjoy garden bird food are doing very well too. Their UK populations have increased on average over the last 25 years that bird feeding has really taken off.

All this feeding might be giving these species an unfair advantage. These species have natural competitors in the woods that aren’t using bird feeders as much or at all, either because they’re shy or because they’re bullied by more dominant species, or because they don’t like the food people provide. These species include the marsh tit, willow tit, pied flycatcher, wood warbler and lesser spotted woodpecker. What’s happening to them is, sadly, not such good news.

How to help all woodland birds

On average, woodland birds that don’t use garden bird feeders have declined over the past 25 years, some to the point where they have almost disappeared from the UK countryside. Nobody knows exactly why, and while this may be partly due to their habitat fragmenting and the climate warming, garden bird-feeding may have also played a role.

Due to people feeding them, there are now more dominant blue and great tits in the woods than 25 years ago, eating more of the limited natural food and evicting other species from their nests. There are also more great spotted woodpeckers and squirrels, which eat the chicks of some birds. Perhaps an extra 700,000 pairs of very healthy and dominant great tits in woodlands is too much for the UK’s remaining 2,000 pairs of shy and subordinate willow tits.

While results suggest there’s a link between how much woodland birds visit feeders and their population trends, they don’t show a direct cause, so we shouldn’t panic yet. While scientists study this problem, responsible bird lovers can help.

Consider contributing to the garden bird surveys organised by the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and Action for Wildlife Jersey/Birds On The Edge to help scientists keep track of where birds are, in what numbers and what they’re doing. If you’re lucky enough to live where rare woodland bird species can still be found, consider providing less bird food to common species and cleaning your feeders regularly.

Meanwhile, there are more natural ways to encourage wild birds into your garden. Planting native shrubs and trees like rowan, hawthorn, silver birch, spindle and guelder rose is one option. They are all beautiful year-round, fairly small and provide excellent habitats for wild birds. Other ideas include mowing lawns less often and digging ponds.

As some rare species nest close to the ground, please keep dogs on leads while walking in woodlands during the spring too. But most importantly, keep enjoying these beautiful birds – in all their miraculous diversity.

Further reading:

Faecal metabarcoding reveals pervasive long-distance impacts of garden bird feeding

A national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens

Wild bird feeding in an urban area: intensity, economics and numbers of individuals supported

 

 

UK is ‘least effective’ G7 country at protecting nature

From BirdGuides

A new report from the RSPB, using data compiled by the Natural History Museum, has been published ahead of the G7 Summit in Cornwall in June and shows the appalling state of nature in the UK.

The UK is listed as the worst nation in the G7 for the volume of wildlife and wild spaces lost due to human activity, resulting in it being ranked twelfth worst of 240 countries and territories.

The new league table is the latest in a growing body of scientific reports that highlights the urgent need for action from the governments of the UK in order to halt and reverse declines in wildlife and protect and restore the environment. Using the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), an internationally approved scientific measurement of the impact of human activity on plants, animals and landscapes, scientists are able to judge the damage to nature in different countries.

The UK has a score of just 50%, which means it has retained only half of its plants and animals, compared with 65% for France, 67% for Germany and 89% for Canada

In 2019 the State of Nature Report revealed 41% of UK species were in decline and more than one in 10 were at risk of extinction. When viewed next to the BII assessment it becomes clear that the UK is at a tipping point where, if enough action is not taken, we will have lost more than we have left.

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “This report shows the perilous state of nature in the UK and why we must urgently protect what is left and work to restore what we have lost. The nature crisis is not something far away but it is happening all around us. We are seeing both the long-term damage to our natural world as well as the effects of trying to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces to fit in with our plans. The result is that the wildlife of the UK is disappearing from our daily life and we are now at a point where we risk having lost more nature than we have remaining.

“With so much of what is precious to us at stake and at a time when so many of us have felt the benefits of being in nature through the pandemic, we should all be alarmed that while Boris Johnson is saying the right things about restoring nature within a generation this is not translating into action in Westminster. This week the Queen’s Speech outlined Westminster’s commitment to delivering an Environment Bill for England and Northern Ireland, but this doesn’t go far enough, and with newly elected administrations in Scotland and Wales, it is now time for all politicians to act.

“Every 10 years the UK joins the international community in agreeing goals and targets for the next decade, but we failed to achieve 17 out of 20 of these between 2010 and 2020. If we are to avoid another lost decade for nature, and when this could be the last decade we have to turn the tide, it is down to our Prime Minster to set us up for success and show us the binding action plan to revive our world. And by working in concert with decision makers in Westminster, Holyrood, the Senedd and Stormont the UK can set an example of our different governments working together to save nature.”

Through the Prime Minister, the UK has been bringing together world leaders to commit to saving nature. UK-led initiatives like the Leader’s Pledge have highlighted the urgent need to respond to the nature emergency, and the environment is set to feature at the UK hosted G7 meeting in June as an important scene setter for the upcoming UN COPs on biodiversity and climate. Likewise, the UN will launch their decade of ecological restoration in June highlighting the importance of the next decade to get to grips with the global nature crisis and put the natural world on a path to recovery.

The RSPB is calling for the governments of the UK to bring in legislation that will deliver action on the vital ambition to protect and restore our natural world, provide a blueprint for delivering on the UK’s world leading commitments and:

  • Set legally binding targets to halt and reverse wildlife declines by 2030
  • Determine interim targets to measure the UK’s progress towards the overall goal
  • Establish an independent watchdog with the power to hold governments to account.

To put the UK back on track, the RSPB is calling on all politicians to Revive Our World, and is giving everyone a place to voice their concerns, as well as proposing the legislation and priorities the UK and devolved Governments must set. To find out more visit the Revive Our World pages.

Read the report Biodiversity Loss: The UK’s global rank for levels of biodiversity loss

Irish national chough survey

From Government of Ireland Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage 

The red-billed chough is one of our most charismatic birds but one which is probably most familiar to those living along rugged Irish coastlines. The chough is a scarce bird associated with coastal fringes from Donegal to Wexford. Fewer than 850 breeding pairs along our coastline from Inishowen in Donegal to the Saltees in Wexford – they are very much a bird associated with western Atlantic coastal grasslands.

A member of the crow family, choughs are true invertebrate specialists with a striking and delicate decurved red bill (and matching red legs) designed to probe the top layer of short coastal grasses for insects – liking  leatherjackets, spiders and, where they can get them the insects associated with cow pats. To a young chough a cow pat is like a burger! Choughs are totally harmless to livestock and farming activities and are an amazing character of our coastal skies.

Because of their dependence on short-cropped coastal grasslands such as clifftops, grazed cliffs, dunes and exposed islands, the extensively managed and relatively mild Irish coastline provides good feeding opportunities throughout the year and good nesting opportunities on our cliffs. Agricultural improvement has led to chough declines – a century ago they used to occur all around the Irish coastline, including the ‘soft’ eastern coastline from Wicklow to Antrim – they have been extinct in most coastal counties there for more than 100 years and the last remaining pair in Northern Ireland – on the cliffs of Rathlin Island in Antrim – disappeared in 2017.

We need to periodically take stock of the population, to know how they are faring, and to use this information to inform their continued conservation. Holding nearly 60% of the Northwest European population we have a legal obligation to do so.

From April to July 2021 KRC Ecological and ALC Nature will be running a national survey of these birds on behalf of National Parks & Wildlife Service all around the Irish coastline.

Aside from having the distinctive red legs and red decurved bill, chough have a buoyant, butterfly-like flight and profile (a little different from other crows), shiny black plumage and a distinctive high pitched ‘cheouw’ call.

Dr Sinéad Cummins, the scientist in NPWS Science Biodiversity Section leading the project said “we are very pleased to be undertaking a national assessment of these characterful birds this year. The data gathered is very important to ensure that Ireland can meet its international obligations to protect and enhance the small and precious population of chough around the Atlantic coastline of Ireland.”

In some areas chough nest inland, away from the coast on inland cliffs, in farm buildings, bridges and abandoned houses. The Survey team would be very keen to hear about any observations people may have of these birds, especially relating to birds nesting in areas away from the coast.

Observations of Irish choughs can be reported here , email choughsurvey@gmail.com or call 089 278 5603.

Sing, fly, soar – like a bird!

From World Migratory Bird Day

World Migratory Bird Day: Join the global celebration of birds and nature on 8 May 2021!

“Sing, fly, soar – like a bird!” is the theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, an annual global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them.

This year the campaign will focus on the phenomena of “bird song” and “bird flight” as a way to inspire and connect people of all ages around the world in their shared desire to celebrate migratory birds and to unite in a common, global effort to protect birds and the habitats they need to survive.

The 2021 World Migratory Bird Day theme is an invitation to people everywhere to connect and re-connect with nature by actively listening to – and watching birds – wherever they are. At the same time the theme appeals to people around the world to use their own voices and creativity to express their shared appreciation of birds and nature.

Birds can be found everywhere: in cities and in the countryside; in parks and backyards, in forests and mountains, and in wetlands and along the shores. They connect all these habitats and they connect us, reminding us of our own connection to the planet, the environment, wildlife and each other. Through their seasonal movements, migratory birds are also regularly reminding us of nature’s cycles.



As global ambassadors of nature, migratory birds not only connect different places across the planet, they also re-connect people to nature and to themselves like no other animals on the planet.

In fact, billions of migratory birds have continued to sing, fly and soar between their breeding and non-breeding sites. During the pandemic, which slowed down many activities by limiting our movements, people across the world have been listening to and watching birds like never before. For many people around the world, bird song has also been a source of comfort and joy during the pandemic, connecting people to each other and to nature as they remain in place.



Scientists around the world have also been studying the impact the pandemic is having on birds and other wildlife, looking at how “the anthropause” – the so-called global shutdown in human activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – has effected birds and other wildlife around the world. At the same time, scientists have also been looking at the positive health benefits of birds and nature on humans.

Clearly, the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for humankind. At the same time, it has also brought a whole new level of awareness and appreciation of birds and the importance of nature for our own well-being.

World Migratory Bird Day 2021 is therefore not only a celebration of birds, it is also an important moment to reflect on our own global relationship with nature and to highlight our collective desire to do more to protect birds and nature in a post-pandemic world.

World Migratory Bird Day is organized by a collaborative partnership among two UN treaties -the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) -and the non-profit organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA). The 2021 campaign is also actively being supported by the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) Secretariat and a growing number of other dedicated organisations.

Celebrated across the world on two peak days each year – on the second Saturday in May and second Saturday in October – World Migratory Bird Day is the only international awareness-raising and education program that celebrates the migration of bird species along all the major flyways of the world.

To learn more and to register your event please visit World Migratory Bird Day 

Endangered puffins and the Seabird Protection Zone 

Press release from Birds On The Edge 

Birds On The Edge is delighted to announce that Jersey’s Atlantic puffins have started to arrive to their breeding cliffs on the Island’s north coast.

This small colony has comprised only four breeding pairs in the last few years, and it is hoped that at least as many will return this year. The puffins have been a bit late to arrive, with only one or two having seen so far over the past few days.

This is the most delicate time for our puffins, as they settle back in their nests and wait for their mates to arrive. Any disturbance or negative experience could put them off and make them abandon the area, sending them off to look for quieter breeding grounds elsewhere. After they have settled, the presence of boats and other watercraft near their breeding sites might disrupt or affect natural behaviours, such as incubation of the egg, fishing, or feeding their chick.

Birds On The Edge asks everyone to follow the guidelines of the Seabird Protection Zone (SPZ) between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, and avoid visiting this area by boat, kayak, paddle board or any other type of watercraft between March and July. These guidelines are already observed by boat and kayak tour operators, who avoid this area at this sensitive time, as well as by the local fishermen, who only visit the area briefly to check their pots.

The presence of watercraft in the Seabird Protection Zone is monitored during regular puffin and seabird surveys. In 2020 a steep increase of leisure craft in the SPZ was noticed in comparison with the previous year. The number of private boats and kayaks recorded per hour increased by 360%. This was believed to be a result of the travel and lockdown restrictions put in place during the pandemic. It was hoped that this year all private boat and kayak users will avoid the area completely until the breeding season is over. However, Birds On The Edge has already received reports of people on kayaks going through the SPZ over the past week.

It is worth remembering that puffins and their relatives, the razorbills, can be found all across the north coast, but as their breeding is restricted to this area, it is extremely important to give them peace and quiet in order for them to return to their nests.

The safest way to enjoy puffins is from the public footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq. As the Jersey puffins nest in rock crevices and between boulders below the coastal slopes, they are out of sight when in their nests. However, they spend a lot of time sitting on the water below the cliffs, and the safest way to watch them, for both puffins and people, is from the footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, looking down to the water. The various vantage points, benches and bunkers along the footpath are good spots to watch puffins and other seabirds from.

The public is also invited to join one of the free ‘Puffin Watches’ that will take place at Plémont over the Easter holiday break. For further details please consult the Facebook pages of Jersey Birding Tours and Jersey Wildlife.

Report highlights status of UK’s familiar birds

From BirdGuides

The latest BirdTrends report from the BTO is especially significant in that it provides an early indication of one of the periodic revisions of the UK’s Red List due to be published at the end of this year. The report is a one-stop shop for information about the population status of familiar breeding birds across the UK.

The report also includes information on breeding performance and survival for a subset of the species, monitored through BTO’s avian demographic schemes – Nest Record Scheme and Ringing Scheme. The report covers 121 species and is based on data gathered by the many thousands of volunteers who contribute to BTO-led surveys, highlighting the changing fortunes of UK and Channel Islands’ birds.

While some species have declined, others have increased. Great spotted woodpecker has shown the largest increase (up 387% in the last 50 years), thanks in part to increases in the number of people providing bird feeders in their gardens. A recent increase in the song thrush population of 15% means it is a candidate for removal from the highest category of conservation concern – the Red List – and the next periodic revision of the list could see song thrush move to the Amber List.

The UK Red List highlights those species in most need of conservation help, because of large-scale reductions in breeding or non-breeding numbers or range, or because they are considered threatened at an international level. Two species highlighted in the latest BirdTrends report that are candidates for being moved onto the Red List are greenfinch and house martin.

A species qualifies for the Red List if there has been a population decline of at least 50% over 25 years, or more. As the latest BirdTrends report reveals, we have lost over one million of our greenfinches during the last 15 years, largely due to the emergence of the disease trichomonosis. House martin populations have been in longer-term decline, perhaps reflecting changes in land-use or reductions in the abundance of favoured invertebrate prey.

For the first time, the report brings together conclusions from scientific research on the conservation actions that can be taken to help those birds whose populations are in decline. For example, research on Eurasian curlew populations suggests that approaches to habitat management that better benefit breeding birds is the best way to improve the fortunes of this iconic bird.

Dr Rob Robinson, lead author on the report, said: “The annual data gathered by our volunteer recorders, and which are summarised in this report, enable us to keep a close eye on a wide array of our bird species, highlighting when they are in trouble and providing the evidence needed to show whether conservation action has turned things around.

“The massive volunteer effort harnessed through a wide range of schemes is critical to conservation, identifying problems, helping to diagnose causes, and assessing the solutions. All of the volunteers involved should feel very proud of their contribution.”

The full report BirdTrends 2020: Trends in numbers, breeding success and survival for UK breeding birds can be read here.

Channel Islands peregrines – not safe yet

Peregrine falcon, a highly skilled predator of flying birds and famous speed star of the skies is one of the most widespread birds on the planet. It sadly became threatened with extinction across most of its range as its numbers plummeted in the 20th century through persecution and the residual effects of organochlorine pesticides. Breeding on each of the main Channel Islands, peregrines became locally extinct in the 1950s.

We are now, however, in more enlightened times. Surely. With persecution outlawed and pesticides like aldrin, dieldrin and DDT banned, the highly adaptable peregrine began to stage a remarkable comeback. Seemingly again a regular sight on every cliff and city cathedral in the UK, the falcon returned too to our islands. After a pair bred in Sark in 1994, the other islands were recolonised, and the first chicks hatched in Jersey after 42 years in 2000. Quickly the wandering bandit (peregrine comes from the word peregrinate, to wander, and it does have wonderful mask) was back and old eyries were reoccupied. Jersey now hosts several pairs with equal numbers across the other islands. We don’t have a cathedral, so they have to make do with St Thomas’ Church although they may not be there every year as all of our pairs regularly move nest sites within their territories.

Poisoned in Guernsey

Now it seems that everyone’s favourite bird of prey (well, it is popularly considered as the ‘fastest animal on earth’) is not quite as safe as we thought. Last year several peregrines, and a buzzard, were found poisoned in Guernsey. Had DDT returned? No, these birds had apparently been directly poisoned, killed, not accidentally, but because they were, well, peregrines. Who would do this? Actually, peregrines have not really been everyone’s favourite bird. People who keep pigeons in particular often don’t like them. Yes, our peregrines do hunt and kill pigeons and although there are lots of wild pigeons on the cliffs and in the town where they live, it is the hunting of owned, racing pigeons that draws ire in certain quarters.

Jamie Hooper sums it up ‘I am saddened that some of our native bird species are still at risk of being killed illegally by a misguided minority. Although birds of prey have slowly recovered from historical persecution, this process of re-colonisation has been significantly impeded by those who wrongly think that raptors should be removed from our natural environment. The scale of the recent killings of peregrines in Guernsey has been particularly devastating to the small local population and we remain keen to eliminate such criminal activity from our island.’

We don’t actually know who poisoned Guernsey’s falcons, despite an offer of a reward, but, as it seems deliberate, the list of suspects can be considered fairly short. That people would deliberately kill a wild bird that only hunts to eat and feed its young when high losses are tolerated among amongst pigeons that get lost, die in storms or simply decide that living wild is much more fun (an estimated 86% of the racing pigeons lost each year fail to return for reasons other than predation by birds of prey) should rule this group out. Of course, it should.

Shot in Jersey

In Jersey, people are sometimes quick to criticise their neighbours so the news that here we had a two-year old, ringed, peregrine shot will come as a shock, I hope. In 2020 a ‘feisty’ but poorly falcon was picked up in December near Ouaisné and died in care at the JSPCA. Examination by Senior Veterinary Surgeon Jo McAllister showed lead shot on X-ray, not enough to kill it outright but enough to prevent it hunting, letting it starve to death instead. Again, we don’t know who shot it but shot it was, and it may have been mistaken for some other bird. A pigeon again? It does show that peregrines are still at risk from people who may not like them and have unilaterally decided to return them to that late 20th century level of threat.

 

In the way of aircraft

Peregrines often seek out their prey by circling high in the sky, above their flying dinners down below. Any good, rising, air current helps them keep airborne and in ‘station’ without them wasting energy. Has using winds blowing up the escarpment along St Ouen’s Bay, been the reason that several have been hit and killed by aircraft as they approach or leave Jersey’s airfield? At least six have been found dead or dying in recent years, most or all juveniles. Juvenile peregrines are, while they are young, larger than adults as they have a lot to learn before they can master the skies like their parents and slowly moult in shorter feathers and keep out of the way of aircraft. While very unfortunate, at least these deaths were accidental, and the bodies have gone for research at the National Museum of Scotland.

Its Jersey’s 20th Great Garden Bird Watch!

The 20th Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch will be held over the weekend of 6th and 7th February

20 years? Yes, the annual Action for Wildlife Jersey and Birds On The Edge garden bird count has reached this significant milestone. Although, it won’t have been undertaken in circumstances quite like these before! Last year, little did we know what was coming. The count has a long tradition of seeming to encourage bad weather so our fear was of the Pest From the West. Did it happen? Does anyone remember February 2020? Well, you warmed up with the RSPB’s UK garden bird watch last weekend so now take part in Jersey’s own watch, one with great significance to our understanding our closest bird neighbours. We really do need as many households to take part as possible. And what else were you planning on doing? 

Song thrushes, who gave us cause for alarm only a few years ago as populations dropped rapidly, show signs that they may be recovering in Jersey. This rather strident singer is getting warmed up around now so, while half their number seem to quietly go about searching for worms on the lawn, the other half sit up in the leafless trees and belt out their (and I’m going to say it) rather monotonous song. Let’s hope that song thrushes feature in this year’s count.

Method for recording

The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to choose one of the two weekend dates (6th or 7th February), look out into the garden for a few minutes, or as long as you like (I just look out the kitchen window) and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species. And, of course, red squirrels count again as birds this year. Just for one weekend!

Once you’ve counted the birds (and squirrels) on your chosen day please fill out the form online here.  Alternatively you can download a form here and email to birdsote@gmail.com or fill out the form in the JEP. This year, we unfortunately won’t be involving the garden centres because of the pandemic restrictions. 

Your observations are of great importance in our understanding of the situation with the birds that we live closest too. Don’t forget, how these birds are fairing in the 21st century says a lot about our own lives and our own environment. You can read about the results of our survey to date in the Jersey Garden Birdwatch Report 2002-2020 here