research

Cats should be kept inside says charity while pleading for ‘daily wildlife slaughter’ to end

With bird nesting season in full swing – this is worth bearing in mind to give new fledglings a head start this Spring!

  • keep cats indoors at dusk and dawn when wildlife is active
  • consider attaching a bell to your cat’s collar so small birds can hear your cat is in the area
  • position feeders away from walls and fences, to prevent cats from pouncing onto feeding birds

A charity has urged pet owners to keep their cats inside, while posting a picture of the ‘slaughter’ wreaked by felines on local wildlife.

Source: Cats should be kept inside says charity while pleading for ‘daily wildlife slaughter’ to end

Road verges are a last hope for UK’s rarest plants, says Plantlife

Next time you’re making a car journey, take a moment to appreciate the humble roadside verge, as you might find something surprising.

Far from being lifeless stretches of faded grass, roadside verges are incredibly valuable for biodiversity. Studies by Plantlife have found that road verges in the UK represent a last refuge for some of our rarest species of plant. However, mowing and management of verges presents a threat to these endangered plants. Plantlife have called for verges to be managed for wildlife to aid conservation efforts.

Plantlife found an incredible 724 species growing on road verges, with some species being found nowhere else.  The top 10 threatened verge species are as follows:

  • Fen ragwort
  • Spiked rampion
  • Crested cow-wheat
  • Tower mustard
  • Velvet Lady’s-mantle
  • Yarrow broomrape
  • Sulphur clover
  • Wood calamint
  • Welsh groundsel
  • Wood bitter-vetch

Some of these species are now restricted to a single ditch in the wild.

In 2015, SongBird Survival supporter Eddie Bullimore lobbied Norfolk County Council to reduce verge cuts on rural roads to conserve the county’s wildlife, including songbirds.

Verge management such as flail cutting means that haws (hawthorn fruit) and rose hips are lost, and thistles are often cut before they can seed. It also endangers ground-nesting birds such as skylark. Thistle seeds are a favourite food source for goldfinch, whils
t fieldfares eat haws, and field mice, an important food source for barn owls, like to feast on rose hips.

Reducing the frequency of cuts means that plant species, and the other wildlife which relies on them such as insects, birds and small mammals, are able to thrive.

To find out more about good management of verges, download Plantlife’s Good Verge Guide here.

Woodland birds threatened by high deer numbers

New research from a team at the University of Nottingham has found that high populations of deer in UK woodlands are having a negative impact on woodland birds.

Dr Markus Eichhorn studied the factors behind the decline in species such as nightingale, marsh tit, willow tit and lesser-spotted woodpecker.

Breeding populations of these birds have suffered severe declines over the last 25 years, whilst the number of deer has doubled. The absence of large predators, such as wolf, lynx and bear, and reduction in hunting, are some of the reasons for deer population expansion.

Although deer do play a part in the health of woodland ecosystems, over-browsing can also have a negative effect. The researchers used laser technology to build 3D maps of woodlands. Comparing 40 woodland areas in England, the team found in areas of dense deer populations there was 68% less foliage near the ground compared with areas with fewer deer.

Dr Eichhorn suggests that if we want to encourage more woodland birds, then we need to take action to restore the woodland structures that they require. Replacing farmed venison with wild meat is one way that deer populations could be controlled.

This research was published in the Journal of Applied EcologyMore about this fascinating paper can be seen here.

Citation: Eichhorn, M. P., Ryding, J., Smith, M. J., Gill, R. M. A., Siriwardena, G. M. and Fuller, R. J. (2017), Effects of deer on woodland structure revealed through terrestrial laser scanning. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12902

Birds hit by cars have smaller brains

New research has uncovered an interesting finding about the consequences of birds’ learnt behaviour in relation to traffic.

When driving along a fast road, you may have seen some species of bird happily wandering the hard-shoulder, apparently oblivious to the traffic zooming past them. Some species, such as magpies, seem especially expert at hopping out of the way to avoid on-coming cars.

Previous studies have actually shown that birds are able to adapt to the direction of traffic and lane use, and this apparently results in reduced risks of fatal traffic accidents.

A new study by Anders Pape Møller and Johannes Erritzøe analysed the link between birds killed by traffic and their relative brain mass. Looking at 3521 birds from 251 species that were brought to a taxidermist, scientists found that birds that were killed in traffic had relatively smaller brains, while there was no similar difference for liver mass, heart mass or lung mass.

These findings suggest that birds actually learn the behaviour of car drivers, and that they use their brains to adjust behaviour to try and avoid mortality caused by rapidly and predictably moving objects. 

More about this fascinating topic can be read in the full research article here.

 

Big Garden Birdwatch – the results are in

At the end of January every year, citizen scientists across the UK take part in the the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Almost half a million people participated in this year’s event, spending an hour in their garden or local park recording the birds that they saw. All the data was submitted to the RSPB, and after some serious number crunching, the results are now out.

The top 10 birds this year are:

1. House sparrow
2. Starling
3. Blackbird
4. Bluetit
5. Woodpigeon
6. Goldfinch
7. Robin
8. Great tit
9. Chaffinch
10. Long tailed tit

Alongside these, high numbers of migratory birds such as waxwings and fieldfares were also reported. Weather conditions in Scandinavia resulted in the berry crop failing this year, which is thought to have caused these species to flock to the UK in search of food.

But the top 10 list above doesn’t tell the whole story; although starlings were the second most commonly reported bird this year, starling populations have actually decreased by a worrying 79% since 1979.

Both chaffinch and greenfinch populations are also down by well over 50% since the 1970s. Tits haven’t fared so well either, with less blue tits, great tits and coal tits recorded than last year.

Citizen science projects such as this give a valuable insight into the health of our wildlife in the UK. They show that our much loved songbirds are in trouble.

SongBird Survival is an independent bird charity working to understand the reasons behind songbird declines in the UK. We raise funds to commission targeted research, and aim to identify solutions to restore songbird numbers, saving the dawn chorus for tomorrow.

To learn more about our work and how you can help, visit our website.

Children who play outside more likely to protect nature as adults — ScienceDaily

           

 

Protecting the environment can be as easy as telling your kids to go outdoors and play, according to a new study. Research by Catherine Broom, assist. prof. in the Faculty of Education at UBC Okanagan, shows that 87 per cent of study respondents who played outside as children expressed a continued love of nature as young adults.

Source: Children who play outside more likely to protect nature as adults — ScienceDaily

Regional dialects in songbirds

A fascinating citizen science project has successfully mapped the distribution of dialects in yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) in both New Zealand and the UK.

Yellowhammers, like us, have regional dialects, with differences in their song depending on the region that they live. A familiar farmland bird in the UK, the species was introduced to New Zealand over 100 years ago, and this has provided researchers with a unique opportunity to investigate two completely isolated populations.

The Yellowhammer Dialects project used citizen science volunteers to record yellowhammer song in the field. This allowed the project to access lots of data from across a very large area, which was then compared with historic recordings from archives. All this information was then used to accurately map the composition and distribution of different dialects in the two countries.

Researchers found an interesting difference in dialect between the populations of yellowhammers, with New Zealand yellowhammers sing nearly twice as many different dialects than yellowhammers in the UK.

They explain this result by suggesting that New Zealand yellowhammers have retained song structures which were originally from the UK, but have subsequently been lost in the mother country, perhaps due to the widespread decline in yellowhammers in the UK.

The yellowhammer dialect system may be the avian equivalent of a phenomenon already noted in human languages, in which ancient words or structures are retained in expatriate communities.

A fascinating finding, and one which will hopefully be complemented by further results in the near future; after the success of this project, the researchers have decided to host sister projects in both Switzerland and Poland.

The full research paper can be found here.

Scientists Track, For the First Time, One of the Rarest Songbirds on Its Yearlong Migration | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian

An amazing feat for a tiny creature!

Weighing the same as a small carrot, every year, this rare North American songbird travels nearly 4,000 miles round trip, across mountain ranges, the body of a continent, the Gulf Stream and open ocean. Most of this journey has been a mystery, until now.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/scientists-track-first-time-one-rarest-songbirds-its-yearlong-migration-180962390/#jGmhL26dY4bCE5Bh.99
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The journey of the Kirtland’s warbler is discovered thanks to a combination of the latest tiny technology and centuries-old solar location methods

Source: Scientists Track, For the First Time, One of the Rarest Songbirds on Its Yearlong Migration | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian

Corvid Population Ecology Research Update

An update from Lucy Capstick, PhD researcher at the University of Exeter, on SBS’s corvid population ecology research study.

My PhD project (funded jointly by SongBird Survival and the University of Exeter, in collaboration with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust), investigating how variation in the ecology and behaviour of Magpies affects their impact on songbirds, is nearing completion. The final season of field work has just finished and over autumn and winter of this year the collected data will be analysed and consolidated.

This project has examined whether individual Magpies differ in the extent to which they predate songbird nests, particularly exploring potential differences between territorial and non-territorial birds. To this end the Magpie and songbird populations of a small mixed farm in Warwickshire have been observed and monitored through spring and summer for the past three years. The continuous use of the same site, a farm with management typical of much of the UK’s rural landscape, has allowed the development of a more detailed picture of the population ecology of both the Magpies and the songbirds. It has also made it possible to investigate variation between years, for example whether differences in weather conditions influence songbird nest success or Magpie food preferences.

magpie

In 2016, as in previous years, songbird nests were located in hedgerows on the field site and monitored in order to assess Magpie impact on the songbird population. However, experience gained in the past two years meant that in 2016 a larger sample of approximately 80 nests was found, and in 50 of these, the outcome (success/failure) was known. The nests found largely belonged to more common species, almost three quarters of nests were Blackbird, Dunnock and Wren, however Goldfinch, Yellowhammer and Whitethroat nests were also located. As well as finding individual nests the territories of songbirds were also identified by mapping singing males early in the season. This information will be related to our knowledge of the Magpie population to see if, for example, the presence of a Magpie territory affects songbird territory location and nest success.

Our understanding of the Magpie population has been developed using a number of techniques over the course of the project. In 2016, Magpies were trapped across the site using Larsen traps for the third consecutive year. Trapped birds were colour ringed so they were individually identifiable. In 2015 the rings were more successfully attached than in 2014, so there was less overwinter loss between 2015 and 2016 than the previous year. Of the 75 occasions Magpies were trapped in 2016, new birds were caught only 10 times, while on the other 65 occasions previously ringed birds were re-trapped. The trapping process was slightly less successful than in 2015 and camera observations of the traps suggested there were a number of occasions of previously trapped individuals returning to traps and, perhaps unsurprisingly, avoiding tripping the mechanism again. Nonetheless, this trapping programme alongside direct observation of individuals and early season identification of magpie nest sites meant it was possible to work out where active Magpie nests were.

As well as looking at how the Magpie population as a whole may relate to songbird nest success, this project also aimed to investigate how individual Magpies differ in their impact on songbirds, for example, are some individuals more likely to predate nests in their territories than others? This year variation in individual Magpie defence behaviour was investigated, largely through work carried out by a Master’s student from Newcastle University (Rebecca Liberty). A dummy Magpie was placed near active nests and the response of the territory holder, which ranged from mobbing the dummy to ignoring it, was recorded. This variation in response, alongside other information such as differences in trappability, may indicate differences in aggression between individuals which could be linked to predation behaviour.

6 - Predated nest

A predated nest. Photo: Lucy Capstick

Another way of examining possible difference in an individual’s predation behaviour is to use artificial nests. This is a recognised technique used to gain an understanding of the pattern of nest predation and the identity of nest predators without disturbing natural nests. Both old songbird nests and manmade nests were baited with real and wax-filled quail’s eggs and monitored by trail cameras (motion activated cameras). A predator attacking a wax egg will leave an imprint, such as a beak or bite mark, and can therefore be identified. The nests were set out in transects in areas with occupied Magpie nests and in areas where it was believed Magpie presence was reduced. This method was piloted in 2015 and used more extensively this year. Over the course of the spring and summer over 400 artificial nests were placed across the field site. It will therefore be possible to look at the impact of Magpie presence on predation, but also at differences between the territories of individual Magpies, and the effect of time of year, for example, is predation higher when Magpies have young in the nest? Preliminary analysis suggests Magpie predation is higher in certain locations and trail camera pictures also identified specific ringed Magpies predating multiple nests. This may indicate that certain individuals predate more.

Over the three years of this PhD project a range of field data, including that detailed above, has been collected. The task now is to look at the information about Magpie population ecology, habitat use and territorial behaviour in combination with that about the songbird breeding population to see if and how they interact. The project will collate information about Magpie distribution, movement and breeding at a wider landscape scale. At a finer scale individual differences between Magpies in terms of territory location and habitat, and behaviour will be examined. Predation of both real songbird nests and artificial nests will be looked at with relation to the Magpie population. As well as this field data, research of the scientific literature will help to build up a more general understanding of corvid predation of songbird nests, as it could be that some species are more vulnerable to predation by corvids or that their populations are less able to recover from breeding season losses. In general this type of research into the population ecology of predators and their prey species, and how they interact, may suggest a way to manage the UK’s countryside to benefit the prey species, such as threatened songbirds.