Will winter woes continue for Britain's birds?


As we scrub our barbecues and patch the holes in our paddling pools ready for the summer sunshine, the days of heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures seem a distant memory. But while we humans are quick to forget, the consequences of the harsh winter are still being felt by Britain's birds as they try to raise their families — the BTO's Nest Box Challenge survey will tell us exactly how they've fared.

Blue Tit clutch (Photo: Richard Castell/BTO)

Now in its fourth year and with over 20,000 nest boxes registered, the BTO's Nest Box Challenge helps us to track the breeding fortunes of our garden birds. The results from 2010 will be of particular interest to scientists, who are predicting a fall in the number of breeding tits as a result of the harsh winter conditions.

"Sadly, the survival rates of our smaller bird species, such as the Blue Tit, are likely to be lower during cold winters," explains Dr Dave Leech, BTO Research Ecologist. "Those that managed to survive could still be feeling the effects, laying later and producing fewer eggs."

By taking part in the online Nest Box Challenge survey, you can help researchers to find out just how severe the impact has been. "It's more important than ever that we record what's in our nest boxes this year — even if the answer is 'nothing', we still want to know that they're empty," states Viv Greenough, Nest Box Challenge Organiser. "This year, we've extended the project to species breeding outside nest boxes, so if you've got a Blackbird in your Leylandii or a Chaffinch nest in your cherry tree, you can tell us about that too."

Will it prove to be a poor breeding season for garden birds, or was the food provided by homeowners enough to combat the effects of the weather? Your records will help the BTO to find out and to predict the fortunes of our nesting neighbours as the climate changes in years to come. To take part in Nest Box Challenge or for more information please visit our website, www.bto.org/nbc. The BTO have a leaflet available on nest boxes; for your free leaflet please call the BTO on 01842 750050, email nbc@bto.org or send an A5 SAE to Nest Box Leaflet, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, IP24 2PU.

In order to assess the health of birds in our gardens, the BTO needs to know about their nesting activities, such as when they lay their eggs, how many they lay, and how many chicks survive to fledging. This information can be gathered by asking volunteers to monitor nest boxes and nests in their gardens and report what they see to the BTO's free online survey, 'Nest Box Challenge'. Boxes and nests are monitored by looking inside them and recording their contents at regular intervals.

By gathering information from gardens across the country each year, the BTO can look at the timing of nesting and the breeding success of the nation's garden birds and can also assess whether these things are changing over time. For example, BTO studies have revealed that many common birds now nest earlier in the year — a response to climate change.

Care must be taken when monitoring nests; please see the following guidance notes: www.bto.org:80/survey/nest_records/code_of_conduct.htm

Written by: BTO