Guidelines on recording rare breeding birds


With the 2010 breeding season well underway, many more birders are out and about and chances are they will be finding evidence of nesting, or potential nesting. Sometimes this may relate to nationally rare species that fall into the list of birds which are monitored by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Records might include broods of rare breeding ducks such as Wigeon, Pochard or Pintail, a singing Quail, a diver on a nesting loch, a Peregrine alarm calling, Little Ringed Plover nests, a Black Redstart carrying food for young in a city centre or a Firecrest singing in a plantation. All of these species, and over 100 others, are monitored by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) on an annual basis, largely based on the observations of birdwatchers who have submitted their records to local bird recorders. The Panel produces a report, published in British Birds, with the latest report, covering the 2007 breeding season, in the January 2010 issue. The report for 2008 will be published early this autumn. All previous annual reports produced by the Panel are available online at www.rbbp.org.uk, where you can also see the full list of species monitored by the Panel.

Pintail, Leighton Moss RSPB, Lancashire (Photo: Jack Bucknall (aged 14))

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Firecrest, Felbrigg Hall NT, Norfolk (Photo: David Horsley)

The Panel has now developed new guidelines to help observers record the most relevant facts about their observations, which can be found on the RBBP website. This leaflet explains the background to the work of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, and why good-quality data are essential in allowing the collation of the most robust and reliable statistics on these species. Please read this and help RBBP improve the standards of recording of some of our rarest breeding species. Higher-quality records will greatly assist in our understanding of the status and distribution of the rarer breeding birds in the UK, allowing population trends to be monitored and conservation efforts to be better directed.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon, Manchester, Greater Manchester (Photo: Ivan Ellison)

In particular, please note the following key points:

  1. Records of rare breeding birds should be submitted in the first instance to the relevant county bird recorder. This allows the recorder to view all records of a species at a site in a year so that they can collate meaningful end-of-season summaries of the numbers and status of each species. They will then submit a detailed summary to the Panel.
  2. Each record should give an indication of the breeding category of the species. The same categories (possible, probable and confirmed breeding) used in Bird Atlas fieldwork are used and the full list of codes and guidance on their use are given in the leaflet. A record of a pair of birds that reach the point of egg-laying is classed as confirmed breeding, regardless of whether they are ultimately successful or not, and these records are the most important of all.
  3. Accurate recording of the location of a breeding (or potentially breeding) pair is imperative. This allows RBBP and the county recorder to distinguish different pairs and ensures that the confidential archive maintained by the Panel is accurate. Maintenance of the archive ensures that data on rare breeding birds is never lost and ensures that the protection of these birds is not compromised. Secrecy over the nesting locations of Honey Buzzards in southern England a few years ago meant that an alleged egg theft incident could not be verified, as the nest sites had not been made available to RBBP and no-one else had access to this information. The RBBP is an independent body and all information held is held confidentially, and details are only made available under strict control to bona fide individuals. RBBP has the respect of the ornithological community and there has been no loss or leakage of sensitive data in its 38-year history.
    Written by: Mark Holling, RBBP Secretary, on behalf of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel