The birds are gearing up for nesting!

Our ornithologist Ken Neal has been keeping his ears open for the early birds!

I am lucky enough to be able to cycle commute along the back lanes of the Devon countryside and while the dual carriageway is a dull roar in the background, I am still able to pick up on the sights and sounds of nature as I pant and sweat up the hills and then whizz down the other side.

Last week, I heard singing males of chaffinch, greenfinch, dunnock, robin, wren and song thrush. Even though it is still only early February, these birds are already gearing up for the breeding season. This was however, before the arrival of Storm Ciara which has most likely caused some serious disruption!

Early nesting is an important reproductive strategy for some of our resident birds as it means that as long as conditions allow (i.e. no ‘Beast from the East’) they will be able to produce at least one brood before the spring migrants arrive and increase competition for resources.

This recent autumn and winter has been particularly wet in the southwest but it has also been mild, good news for typically ground-feeding birds such as thrushes and chats. Wet ground remains soft so that they can probe the soil for invertebrates that have been forced upwards by the sodden conditions.  The mild weather is also good news for seed eaters such as finches as it reduces their energetic demand during the winter making it easier for them to maintain condition ready for the breeding season.

It is because of these early nesting birds that guidelines recommend starting breeding bird surveys in March so that the territories of these birds can be mapped. This is particularly important as some species are less likely to sing once they have paired up and started raising chicks.

Early nesting is an adopted strategy for some birds, but climate change is also leading to significant changes in bird nesting behaviour. For example, in 2019 the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) identified 40 species that, on average, are laying between three and 21 days earlier, on average, compared to the mid 1960’s. This leads to concerns regarding the survival of chicks due to a mismatch between hatching times and availability of food. E.g. invertebrate prey items are less available earlier in the spring.

Keeping an eye out for early nesting birds is therefore especially important here in the milder south west. Ken Neal is our dedicated ornithologist and can help with bird survey requirements so do get in touch if you need any advice.

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