UK Bird News April 2017

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RSPB opens hotline to locate the UK’s rarest breeding birds of prey

The RSPB is encouraging farmers, birdwatchers and walkers to keep a look out for Montagu’s harriers, the UK’s rarest breeding bird of prey, as they begin this year’s breeding season.

In 2016, five pairs of Montagu’s harrier are known to have nested in England (in Norfolk and SW England). It is essential that the small number of breeding attempts made this year are identified and protected from accidental damage, disturbance or persecution to give these magnificent birds the best possible chance.

Data from tracked individuals has shown that these special birds spend the winter in Senegal, West Africa. In 2014, an adult male Montagu’s harrier, named Mark, was tagged in South West England allowing the RSPB to follow the migration route these birds of prey take for the first time.

The core population of Montagu’s harrier usually returns to the same nesting areas each year. The RSPB has been working successfully with these landowners for more than 30 years; however, it is important that any new or unknown nests are located.

Montagu’s harrier arrive in the UK around May time to nest, before returning to Africa in August. It is possible to spot the breathtaking birds of prey on passage, particularly on the south and eastern coasts of England.

Mark Thomas, who leads on Montagu’s harrier conservation work for the RSPB, said: “Farmers and birdwatchers can really help with the conservation of this threatened species. Now is the best time to witness the adults’ airborne courtship before they establish their crop nests and become difficult to spot. If you are fortunate enough to see these breathtaking birds then please contact the hotline to let us know.”

Montagu’s harriers are striking birds – they are larger than a kestrel with long wings and a long tail giving them a slender appearance. The males are plain grey, with black wingtips and a white underside. The females are mottled brown with a white rump.

They breed in the south-west and east of England on lowland farmland, particularly winter cereals, oilseed rape and field silage.

Any possible sightings of Montagu’s harrier can be reported to the hotline on 01767 393690 or emailed to Details should include the date, six digit grid reference if possible and a contact telephone number. All reports to the hotline will be treated in the strictest of confidence.

Police and RSPB appeal for information after red kite found shot in Bedfordshire

Bedfordshire police and the RSPB are appealing for information after a dead red kite was found near Toddington, Bedfordshire, containing as many as 10 pieces of shot.

The bird was discovered by a member of the public at Daintry Wood and sent for post-mortem examination. Radiography using X-rays, carried out by Zoological Society of London (ZSL) revealed 10 pieces of lead shot lodged in the body.

Inspector Mark Farrant, who leads the Operation Sentinel Rural Team which has responsibility for all Bedfordshire wildlife crime matters, says: “This is a particularly worrying incident against a bird that is fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I would ask anyone with information relating to this or similar incidents to call Bedfordshire Police.”

According to the RSPB, the shooting of birds of prey is a widespread problem in the UK. The organisation’s latest Bird Crime report cited 196 reports of shooting, trapping and destruction of birds of prey in 2015, including red kites.

Jenny Shelton, Investigations Liaison Officer at the RSPB, says: “It is appalling to find yet another shot red kite, and one containing so many pieces of shot. This was clearly no accident, and the bird will most likely have been shot at close range to incur this level of damage.

“This incident is especially sad considering the lengths that have been taken to re-introduce these splendid birds. Red kites feed mainly on carrion, so pose no threat to people, pets or game, so there is no logical reason for these birds to be targeted. To most of us they are a treat to see, and can be identified by their forked tail and red-and-white colouring.”

Although a fairly common sight in Bedfordshire now, thanks to one of the world’s most successful reintroduction schemes, in the 1980s red kites were one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds.

If you have any information relating to this case, call Bedfordshire police on 101.
If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form

21 years of RSPB Scotland’s Corncrake Initiative

21 years of RSPB Scotland’s Corncrake Initiative

For the 21st year running, RSPB Scotland is on the lookout for corncrakes this summer as part of the Corncrake Initiative, and is asking folk across Orkney to listen out and report any birds.

It is impossible to monitor the breeding population of these rare birds on Orkney without public reports and the local RSPB Scotland team are asking the public to call the hotline if they see or hear this extremely rare, secretive bird.

Pupils from Rousay Primary School have kindly helped to raise awareness by designing information posters which will be distributed across the islands.

Corncrakes migrate from Africa arriving in Orkney from mid-April. In flight their bright chestnut wings and trailing legs are unmistakable, but they are more often heard than seen. They have a recognisable ‘crex crex’ rasping call that is often heard coming from the long vegetation they rely on to hide in.

Bea Ayling is RSPB Scotland’s Conservation Officer in Orkney. She said: “We are so grateful for all the support we have received that has helped us monitor these extremely rare and secretive birds. In 2016, we received 100 reports and we would like to once again thank everyone that contacted us. The only way we can keep track of numbers is with public support and therefore we hope people will continue to report when they see or hear birds this year”.

Corncrake numbers in Orkney are unpredictable – last year 12 calling males were recorded across the county and in 2015 it was 16, compared to 36 in 2014.

Once common across the UK, corncrakes have been badly affected over the last century by the trend towards earlier mowing dates, which has seen corncrake chicks unable to escape, trapped and killed in their nests. In the UK corncrakes are now confined to north and west Scotland, with Orkney’s birds representing a significant percentage of the surviving population.

Corncrakes are naturally quite short-lived birds and if habitat conditions are not good, they will quickly disappear from the landscape. As they rarely colonise new locations, once they are lost from an area, re-colonisation can be a major challenge. This is why keeping corncrakes in Orkney is regarded as so important.

If you see or most likely hear a corncrake, please to report it to the Corncrake Hotline on 01856 852021 or email

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2017 |  UK Bird News April 2017

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