research

How can we manage broadleaved woodland to benefit birds?

Broome et al 2017Although broadleaved woodland, an important habitat for many birds, is increasing in the UK, songbird populations are still in decline. An interesting new review of previous research, combined with a field study by the Forestry Commission, has provided some possible solutions to this quandary.

Researchers studied a representative sample of broadland lowland woodlands in England and Wales, assessing the effect of woodland management (silvicultural intervention and control of deer browsing) on vegetation structure, and the relationships between vegetation structure and woodland birds.

Different bird species have different habitat and resource requirements, which researchers identified from a review of existing literature. For example, while hawfinches mainly forage in woodland canopy, dunnocks forage on the ground and willow tits are reliant on the shrub layer for their foraging requirements. Wood warblers prefer mature woodland, whereas song thrush require woodland in a younger stage of development.

As well as summarising resource requirements for 17 target bird species, the study classified different woodland stand structures from A to F, which related to their value to birds:

A – dense low shrub layer
B – dense high shrub layer
C – open understory
D – open canopy
E – closed canopy, few strata
F – closed canopy, multiple strata

The most frequently occurring structures found currently in lowland broadleaved woodlands in England and Wales were stand type E, which are of least value to woodland birds.

The crucial finding from this research is that a very high proportion of lowland broadleaved woodland in England and Wales is of fairly uniform structure. This lack of structural heterogeneity means that our woodlands are missing the mosaic of habitats which different bird species rely on.

Simply increasing the UK’s area of broadleaved woodland is not enough to help songbird populations recover: these woodlands need appropriate, targeted management to deliver a mixture of different stand structures at the landscape scale.

This research has identified a novel approach, providing woodland owners and managers with practical management advice to increase the biodiversity value of their woodland. Creating a more diverse structure through targeted woodland management practices is essential to provide suitable habitat and resources, and to enable woodland bird populations to thrive.

Read the full research paper here.

Introducing SongBird Survival’s new research project!

In partnership with the University of Exeter, we aim to find out how we can improve the health and welfare of cats and wildlife. Find out more below:

 https://biteable.com/watch/embed/introducing-our-new-research-project-in-partnersh-1455388

Introducing our new research project, in partnership with the University of Exeter on Biteable.

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

Their Future is Our Future – World Migratory Bird Day 2017 

Today is World Migratory Bird Day – an international celebration of the ecological importance of birds.

Watch the official World Migratory Bird Day trailer here:

Their future is our future!

To learn more about the fantastic collaborations which are happening to help conserve our migratory birds, visit the World Migratory Bird Day website.

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.

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.

 

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