Smew uplisted on BirdGuides news service


Smew has been upgraded to Scarce on the BirdGuides sightings service as of 1 January 2024, following the continued decline of this attractive duck in Britain.

During the festive period at the end of 2023, it was estimated that as few as 58 individuals were present in Britain – less than half the 130 estimated to winter in Britain by the Population estimates of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain report, published in British Birds in 2019. Aside a flock of up to 12 at Eyebrook Reservoir, Leicestershire, most records this winter involves ones and twos.

A drake Smew at Broadwood Loch, Clyde, in December 2023 (Mark Darling).

For many years, south-east England was considered the British stronghold for wintering Smew, but as things stand this winter the most southerly wintering birds are in Hertfordshire and Essex. The Dungeness peninsula in Kent, traditionally regarded as a national hot-spot for the species, recorded a blank year for the species in 2023. In Surrey and Sussex, Smew has gone from an expected winter visitor to a county rarity and description species in recent years.

Smew arriving in southern Britain are generally considered overspill from wintering populations in the Low Countries – chiefly the Netherlands – and birds typically arrive on our shores on the back of a cold snap across Europe, usually in December or January, with numbers peaking in late winter. Milder winters mean this ever-popular duck simply doesn't need to retreat to the far western reaches of its winter range as much as previously, with more and more spending the coldest months in the Baltics, Germany or even southern Scandinavia. What's more, it's likely that it'll become scarcer still in the years ahead.

In the middle of the 20th century, counts from single sites in south-east England equated to the entire national haul for a modern-day winter. An amazing 144 at Brent Reservoir on 28 February 1956 is the highest British count and nowadays seems scarcely believable. Meanwhile, systematic counts during the winters of 2004-05 and 2008-09 came up with an estimate of 170 Smew visiting our shores.

As a result, Smew is now uplisted from Local to Scarce on the BirdGuides sightings service. Due to it being a status 'upgrade', this change won't require any changes to filters and alerts.

For all the latest sightings of Smew, log on to www.birdguides.com/sightings – or buy a bird news subscription to keep up to speed with observations nationwide.