RBBP: Rare Breeding Birds - guidelines on their recording


Now that the 2009 breeding season is drawing to a close, birders will be looking back at their records of nesting species and considering which to submit to their county bird recorder. For the more fortunate among you, these records will include some of our rarer breeding birds, those monitored by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Firecrest, undisclosed site, Norfolk (Photo: Gavin Horsley)

Such records might include broods of rare nesting ducks such as Wigeon, Pochard or Pintail, or a calling Quail, a diver on a nesting loch, Peregrine alarm-calling, Little Ringed Plover nests, Black Redstart carrying food for young in the 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 submitting their records to the local bird recorders. The Panel produces a report, published in the monthly journal British Birds. The latest report, covering the 2006 breeding season, was published in the April issue of British Birds, and the report for 2007 will be published before the end of this year. All previous annual reports produced by the Panel are available on www.rbbp.org.uk. You can also see the full list of species monitored by the Panel on this site.

The Panel has developed new guidelines to help observers record the most relevant facts about their observations, and a copy is available here (PDF, 400KB). Please read it and help RBBP improve the standards of recording of some of our rarest breeding species. Better-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 identified and conservation effort to be better directed. 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.

Black Redstart
Black Redstart, Manchester (Photo: A.Dancy)

In particular, please note the following key points:

  1. Records of rare breeding birds should be submitted in the first instance to the county bird recorder. This enables the recorder to view all records of a species at a site in a year so that he or she can collate meaningful end-of-season summaries of the numbers and status of each species on the RBBP list for their bird report, and also submit detailed data to RBBP.
  2. Each record should give an indication of the breeding category of the species. The same categories (possible, probable and confirmed breeding) used in Atlas fieldwork are also employed, and the full list of codes and guidance in their use are given in the leaflet. A record of a pair which gets to the point of laying eggs 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 recorder to be able to distinguish different pairs and ensures that the confidential UK-level archive maintained by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel is accurate. Maintenance of the archive ensures that data on rare breeding birds are never lost and can ensure that the protection of the birds is not compromised. Secrecy over the nesting locations of Honey Buzzards in southern England a few years ago meant that an alleged egg-thieving 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 Rare Breeding Birds Panel 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 37-year history.
Written by: Mark Holling, RBBP Secretary, on behalf of the Rare Breeding Birds Panel