RSPB UK's only nesting 'butcher birds' successful on Dartmoor


This page contains 7 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Mon 30/09/13 17:50).

Conservationists have announced the fledging of two youngsters from the UK's only nesting pair of Red-backed Shrike in 2013. The birds, at a secret location on Dartmoor, have been under close watch to guarantee their safety in a project managed by the RSPB with support from Dartmoor Study Group, Devon Birds, Devon & Cornwall Police, Forestry Commission, Dartmoor National Park Authority and Natural England.

Kevin Rylands from the RSPB said: "This is now the fourth year they have returned to Dartmoor, but they failed to breed successfully last year, probably due to the awful weather. A lone male visited the previous breeding site in May this year but failed to find a mate. Fortunately though a pair was found at a new site in June and this bodes well for the future of the species on Dartmoor."

Red-backed Shrike
Two juvenile Red-backed Shrikes were fledged on Dartmoor this year (Photo: John Richardson)

Red-backed Shrikes were driven to extinction in the UK at the end of the last century and egg collecting remains a major threat. Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Josh Marshall, has been directly involved in the protection scheme since the birds first bred on Dartmoor in 2010. He explained: "I deployed Operation Wilderness cameras to assist with the protection of the birds. Cameras were downloaded at regular intervals to ensure the security of the site. As in previous years, we used a combination of volunteers, staff and sophisticated wildlife surveillance equipment as part of site protection and monitoring. Although it's been hard work, the efforts have been rewarded with two youngsters fledged. We are particularly grateful to the volunteers involved and to Devon Birds for funding some of the cameras used on site as part of Devon & Cornwall Police's Operation Wilderness."

Red-backed Shrike is a migrant species that returns from Africa in spring. They are also known as "butcher birds" due to their uncompromising eating habits, which involve catching small creatures and often impaling them on sharp thorns or barbed wire. These 'larders' can hold caterpillars, beetles, bees, lizards and even small mammals. Once a familiar breeding bird across the country, they declined to extinction, last breeding in England (East Anglia) in 1992, before their return to Dartmoor in 2010.

Red-backed Shrike
Male Red-backed Shrikes are stunning birds (Photo: Bill Dykes)

"The Red-backed Shrike is a beautiful bird with striking feeding habits," explained George Harris, Chairman of Devon Birds. "Its loss from Devon last century was tragic, which is why we are so keen to support initiatives such as this, with necessarily wide-reaching partnership involvement, intended to see this bird's recovery in Devon. It's a big aspiration, but success will be worth the effort!

Kevin Rylands concluded: "We hope Red-backed Shrikes will continue to re-colonise Dartmoor but that is dependent upon birds returning next year, finding suitable habitat and not being disturbed. In addition to facing threats from egg-collectors, shrikes, along with many other migratory birds, are in great danger when travelling between the southwest and wintering grounds in Africa, with many trapped and killed en route. The extent of habitat and amount of large insects and other available prey on Dartmoor has no doubt contributed to the recent success of this species. Surveys have shown that Dartmoor (and other SW uplands) holds a wealth of species previously widespread in lowland areas such as Cuckoo, Meadow Pipit and Whinchat and the RSPB is working with conservation partners to ensure that this important upland and its fringes can provide the food and nesting sites that birds need."

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Red-backed Shrike Red-backed Shrike
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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (7)

We should really celebrate this news, let hope this toe-hold develops to a more substantial population. Top of the class to the folks who are guarding these guys because sadly those selfish eggers who ironically call themselves bird lovers have already been seen hunting the nests down, sad but true.
   Dave Barnes, 27/09/13 19:39Report inappropriate post Report 
Yes, a brilliant success story about the Red-backed Shrikes breeding in Devon, how sad that wildlife crime had to dominate the whole event.
   Pete Woodruff, 27/09/13 20:20Report inappropriate post Report 
I really hope this charismatic bird follows in the footsteps of other successes in the region such as Cirl Bunting and Chough and becomes an established breeding species. Well done to all involved for all their hard work and dedication to this project, and best of luck for the future.
   David King, 28/09/13 00:02Report inappropriate post Report 
I was lucky enough to see a young Red Backed Shrike whilst on Mull this September. It stayed for a week or so alongside the Reed Beds in Dervaig where we were staying. I got a few photos but nothing worth sharing here, you would all laugh your socks off! I found out about the bird being there through a wonderful website which notes birds of interest to people who live on Mull or who are visiting. The site is run by Alan Spellman and he updates it daily for those who are interested. I really do feel privileged to have seen this young bird.
   Zara Tivey, 29/09/13 00:54Report inappropriate post Report 
Apparently red-backed shrike also bred in Northumberland this year: http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk/news/rare-bird-of-prey-nests-in-county-for-first-time-1.1074321 You'd think the RSPB would know this before claiming the only breeding success was on Dartmoor.
   Nigel Thomas, 30/09/13 11:33Report inappropriate post Report 
'Apparently' is apparently the operative word, Nigel. Don't think there's any hard evidence that rspb have made an incorrect claim here. According to the Hexham Courant article, Great Grey Shrike successfully bred in 2009?! Enough said.
   Nick Moran, 30/09/13 12:12Report inappropriate post Report 
Nice success, but what's the point in dredging up an archaic, long-disused name for the article title, that will only serve to reinforce the prejudice against the species of some in the gamekeeping community? That will not help its recolonisation.
   Michael P, 30/09/13 17:50Report inappropriate post Report 

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