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British Birds

April 2019 • Vol.112 • 181– 240

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

British Birds Volume 112

Red-winged Blackbird: new to Britain

Lundy: seabirds and Wheatears
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Front-cover photograph: Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros, Norfolk, January 2018. Robin Chittenden
British Birds
Volume 112 • Number 4 • April 2019

182 BB eye Mark Lewis

185 News and comment Adrian Pitches
190 Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa Nicolas Martinez,
Bernd Nicolai and Vincent van der Spek
211 Red-winged Blackbird in Orkney: new to Britain Simon Davies
217 Seabird recovery on Lundy: population change in Manx Shearwaters
and other seabirds in response to the eradication of rats
Helen Booker, David Price, Peter Slader, Tim Frayling, Tom Williams
and Mark Bolton
231 Northern Wheatears on Lundy: the impact of rat eradication
Tony Taylor
237 Recent reports 239 My patch

Most readers will be familiar with the potentially disastrous impact of

introduced rodents on island populations of ground-nesting seabirds. In
recent years, we have collectively shuddered at the discovery of mice eating
albatross chicks on Gough Island and marvelled at the prospect of making
South Georgia rodent-free. Closer to home, the scale of the problem might
be somewhat less dramatic, but it is a particular pleasure to see two papers
in this issue about the birds of Lundy Island following the rat eradication
programme there 15 years ago. The response of the island’s Manx
Shearwaters and other seabirds is a genuine good-news story, and it is
fascinating to read the evidence of what appears to be an impact on the
numbers of a ground-nesting passerine too. The account of the first Red-
winged Blackbird to make it to Category A, on North Ronaldsay in April
2017, is another good-news story about birds on islands. However, I cannot deny that the events on
my former home island of Fair Isle (see pp. 185–186) are dominating my thoughts as I write the last
piece for this month’s issue. The images of the blazing observatory were shocking, although
tempered by the relief that no-one was hurt. Much has been lost but there is no doubt that, in due
course, a new chapter in the Fair Isle story will begin.
Roger Riddington

British Birds aims to: v provide an up-to-date magazine for everyone interested in the birds
of the Western Palearctic; v publish a range of material on behaviour, conservation, distribution,
ecology, identification, movements, status and taxonomy as well as the latest ornithological news
and book reviews; v maintain its position as the journal of record; and
v interpret scientific research on birds in an easily accessible way.

© British Birds 2019

BB eye
Why birders should be safe and sound

irding has come such a long way since need to pull our hair out over every bird that
I started, keen and wide-eyed, back in has ‘got away’. Those flyovers that were
the early 1980s. Information has muffled by the wind, or the sound of a
never been easier to acquire. These days we Cornish pasty wrapper (it’s happened to
have books where the illustrations actually me…) would be suitably documented if we
look like the birds; optics that produce crisp, were carrying some simple and relatively
sharp images; and an internet chock-full of cheap equipment. We’ve all had probable rare
papers, blogs, forums and photographs to birds fly over, ones that called once and
refer to. To keep up with all this, birders have which we’d love to have heard again; and
changed too. Notebooks are becoming a with a bit of effort, this troubling but familiar
thing of the past and, in their place, cameras scenario is one that can be put to bed rela-
and digiscoping clobber have become most tively easily.
birders’ main tools for documenting rare, The answer is to continuously record what
unusual or difficult species. However, espe- is going on around us while out birding (the
cially when searching for something a little alternative, of having the equipment but not
out of the ordinary, many of us will happily having it recording at all times, simply leads
don binoculars, telescope, tripod, and DSLR, to missed opportunities, especially where fly-
all in the name of finding and documenting overs are concerned). The approach is
that all-important rarity. A hefty and expen- simple: turn the kit on and leave it on.
sive cocktail. Record throughout your time in the field,
Birders are, as a community, still strongly and simply note the time (on the recorder,
skewed towards documenting visual cues for not the time of day), or stop the recording
bird identification. It seems strange to me and start again, when you hear something
that some of us will carry several thousand interesting. Back at home, with your
pounds’ worth of equipment that focuses on recording uploaded, you can skip to the time
the visual aspects of birding, yet few of us you’ve noted down and get to work analysing
carry the relatively cheap items of additional what you heard.
kit that record the sounds birds make. All A recent trip to Ouessant, at the southwest
too frequently I see birders, laden with end of the English Channel, highlighted how
optical paraphernalia, resorting to clumsy important sound recording can be. By contin-
phonetic renderings or feeble whistled uously recording while birding during the
attempts to relay the detail in what they week, I was able to capture the quiet ‘tek’ calls
have just heard. How many records commit- of an elusive Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantil-
tees have discussed whether ‘chack’ or ‘tic’ lans, confirming the identification as a bird of
really cuts the mustard? Does the ‘zeear’ I the ‘western’ group S. c. iberiae/inornata (as
might use to describe a flyover Red-throated opposed to an eastern bird with its compound
Pipit Anthus cervinus really differ an awful ‘tr-ek’-like calls); this would never have been
lot from the ‘zeep’ you might use to describe achieved on field views, or from photographs
the call of a Tree Pipit A. trivialis? Probably (since it was hardly ever visible). I was able to
not. review recordings of a late flyover Tree Pipit to
The difficulties of converting vocalisations eliminate the possibility of Olive-backed A.
into words has made us surprisingly hodgsoni (fig. 1) and confirm a flyover
accepting of the idea that some flyovers are Woodlark Lullula arborea, which was making
best forgotten, or at least should ‘go no some unusual calls (although admittedly
further than the notebook’. The attitude is they’re all unusual to someone based in north-
fine to some extent – let’s not shoehorn the east Scotland). And the inevitable happened.
evidence into a firm identification where The one day when I wasn’t recording, a large
there is genuine uncertainty – but we don’t pipit flew over. I thought it sounded good for

182 © British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 182 – 184

BB eye

a Richard’s Pipit
A. richardi, but
several people
have suggested
that my record
shots look better
for Blyth’s A.
godlewskii. I
know what I
think I heard,
but if I’d been
able to go back
and listen again
the issue would
have been
resolved imme-
diately. Fig. 1. A sonogram of a single Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis call (highlighted)
My interest among migrating flocks of Common Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs and Bramblings
F. montifringilla, Ouessant, October 2018. Continuous recording means that these
in sound record- one-off calls are not missed.
ing was piqued
by the original Sound Approach guide crucial bits of hard evidence in submis-
(Constantine et al. 2006), but it’s the uptake sions to rarities committees.
in recording nocturnal migration that really G Your recordings can be uploaded
seems to have forced the sonogram (or to databases such as eBird
‘spectrovid’ – where calls and sonograms are ( or Trektellen
presented together in video form) into the ( – they are a valuable
current UK birding zeitgeist (see Robb et al. tool for data verification and alerting
2018). We understand them, and realise how fellow recorders to what might be about to
valuable they can be; and yet still relatively fly over their heads.
few of us actively make use of them. I still get There are benefits to the birding commu-
contacted by very good birders asking me to nity as well as to the individual: fewer lost
clean up and ‘sonogramify’ recordings records of scarce and rare birds, and an
they’ve made on mobile phones or from increased knowledge pool. The emergence of
video recordings, which is great, as I enjoy various blogs and social media groups
doing it. However, the technical knowledge focused on sound recording (e.g. Nocmig –
involved, to record songs and calls and gen- nocturnal bird migration by sound on
erate your own sonograms, is not daunting Facebook) is testament to the fact that
and we should encourage more people to birders are willing to ask questions and
give it a try themselves. There are many share knowledge, and there is often lively
benefits. discussion of interest to anyone who would
G Each recording can be reviewed many like to learn more about bird sounds.
times. So, what’s holding people back? Why
G Each recording can be compared with any haven’t we embraced sound recording as fully
number of calls (both aurally and visually, as photography as an essential part of the
using a sonogram) from the same or modern birder’s toolkit? To investigate
similar species. There are millions of bird further, I posted a simple poll on Twitter,
recordings that are free to download, asking birders to choose one of four options.
for example at Xeno-canto (www.xeno- Only 21% of the 323 who responded said or the Macaulay Librar y that they were not interested in sound
( recording, which is encouraging. ‘Already
G You can produce sonograms, and share carrying too much equipment’ was the most
these (and the sound files) to help identify common response (45%) with ‘Can’t afford
your recordings; and they are potentially it’ and ‘Don’t know how to use the

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 182 – 184 183

BB eye

a small fortune on kit if you go for

a top-of-the-range mic, parabola
and recorder, but for ‘record
recordings’ all you really need is a
device for recording the noises.
These usually come with built-in
microphones that are adequate for
birds close by in decent weather,
but the addition of a simple
‘shotgun’ microphone cuts down
the amount of background noise
recorded, and improves the quality
of your recordings. In the field, it
really is as simple as plugging the
mic into the device, pointing it at
the bird, and pressing record. The
software is a little trickier to
master but there is abundant help
online to get you started. Audacity
and Raven seem to be the software
options of choice for most birders.
Claire Béarn

The moral of this ‘BB ear’ is that

you don’t have to be an expert to
get the most out of sound
recording. I’m no expert but I’ve
108. The author in the field, doing some passive sound learnt an awful lot about bird
recording, January 2019. noises since taking it up, and it has
taught me to listen more and to
equipment’ each chosen by 17%. An addi- listen better. Recording birds in the field can
tional factor suggested by some is that the offer us fresh ID insights, help us learn to hear
time needed to analyse recordings is a the differences between similar calls, prove
limiting factor. that we really did see (or hear) what we’re
That poll suggests that if recording equip- claiming, contribute to the greater good via
ment was more portable and affordable, then databases such as Xeno-canto and the
many more birders might take it up. Yet Macaulay Library, and of course be rewarding
you can buy more than adequate sound in its own right. In fact, most of us carry
recording equipment for a couple of sound recording equipment around with us
hundred pounds, and what’s more it’s at all times without even realising it – most
extremely portable. A simple handheld smartphones can make perfectly adequate
recorder with a basic directional microphone recordings. Next time you come across a large
is more than enough to get those ‘record but flighty pipit, or a chiffchaff Phylloscopus
shots’. What’s more, you don’t even have to sp. with an unusual call, give it a go!
‘wear’ it: this sort of kit sits perfectly in the
side pocket of a rucksack. Passive continuous References
recording like this will capture all of those Constantine, M., & The Sound Approach. 2006.
The Sound Approach to Birding. The Sound Approach,
flyovers, and allow quick access to the equip- Poole.
ment should you need to point it at birds Robb, M., & The Sound Approach. 2018. The buzz of
singing or calling nearby. If you don’t record ‘nocmig’. Brit. Birds 111: 418–422.
anything of note, you can delete the file in a
few seconds. If you do, the time spent Mark Lewis
processing the information will probably be
worth it – and, with practice, will take only
a few minutes. Of course, you can spend

184 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 182 – 184

News and comment
Compiled by Adrian Pitches
Opinions expressed in this feature are not necessarily those of British Birds

Fair Isle Bird Observatory destroyed by fire

There was shocking news from Shetland on has been no loss of life but heartfelt
Sunday 10th March: the world-renowned sympathy to David, Susannah and family –
Fair Isle Bird Observatory had burnt to the and the islanders. We will rebuild. We have
ground just weeks before the 2019 season was lost much and will lose a year. Fair Isle is
due to start. Mercifully, observatory warden close to my heart. This is very, very sad.’
David Parnaby, his wife Susannah and their The observatory was founded in 1948
two daughters escaped unharmed. and a brand-new, £4m building was con-
Local firefighters were called to the obser- structed in 2010. It’s a focal point for Fair
vatory at about 11.20 hrs. Extra fire crews were Isle and the principal accommodation
flown in from Sumburgh on Mainland offered to visitors to the island – and its loss
Shetland by helicopter, with others arriving on will have a significant economic impact on
the island by boat. The smoke was visible from the island. And the impact on Britain’s
Sumburgh Head, 40 km to the north. But by birding community will also be significant,
the evening, despite the firefighters’ best with the loss of 70 years of birding history –
efforts, the entire building had been destroyed. including irreplaceable original logs,
Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust President artwork, etc. Thankfully, the migration logs
Roy Dennis, a former observatory warden, were digitised soon after the 2010 rebuild
said on Twitter: ‘This is absolutely tragic (see, for example, the paper by Miles et al. in
news – our famous Fair Isle Bird Observatory BB – Brit. Birds 110: 318–334).
has been lost to fire. Thank goodness there BB offers its support and solidarity to the

Susannah Parnaby

109. Fire engulfs Fair Isle Bird Observatory, 10th March 2019.

© British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 185 – 189 185

News and comment
Susannah Parnaby

110. The charred remains of the observatory buildings on Fair Isle, early on 11th March 2019.

Obs, its staff and the islanders – and we will their home and most of their possessions in
bring news of the rebuilding process and any the blaze, raised £26,640 in just a few days, as
appeal for funds in due course. A crowd- messages of support came in from around
funding appeal for the Parnabys, who lost the world.

Welsh Golden Eagle reintroduction fanfare sounds familiar

The media blitz that surrounded a supposed the project could be completed in practical
reintroduction programme for Golden Eagles terms or that the outputs would meet the
Aquila chrysaetos in Snowdonia took many stated aims. As a result, Natural England
observers by surprise. Who exactly was found that the proposal lacked the necessary
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who popped up on depth and rigour to provide confidence it
BBC Countryfile and BBC Breakfast? Was would succeed.
he part of Eagle Reintroduction Wales ‘Significantly, the proposal did not include
(, the an ecological impact assessment and there-
collaboration between Cardiff University and fore the application lacked the assurances
Roy Dennis, which has been patiently that impacts had been considered or that the
scoping out a potential reintroduction area had been properly assessed as suitable
project for both Golden and White-tailed for the Lynx at the current time. As far as
Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla in North Wales? could be seen, major landowners and man-
Not exactly, no. In fact, O’Donoghue of agers, including Forestr y Commission
‘Wilder Britain’ is the same Paul O’Donoghue England, were either engaged insufficiently
whose ‘Lynx UK Trust’ had its application to or not at all…’
reintroduce Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx to O’Donoghue’s other project, ‘Wildcat
Kielder Forest in Northumberland robustly Haven’ in western Scotland, has also attracted
rejected by Natural England in November controversy – and criticism from Scottish
( 2BPHvIR). In his rejection Natural Heritage, the Royal Zoological Society
letter, Environment Secretary Michael Gove of Scotland and TV naturalist Chris Packham
pulled no punches: ‘Following a thorough – but once again it also generated a lot of pub-
assessment, Natural England concluded that licity. Hopefully the low-key, assiduous work
the application does not meet the necessary of Eagle Reintroduction Wales will not be
standards… and fails to give confidence that derailed by similar high-profile infighting.

186 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 185 – 189

News and comment

HBW moves to Cornell

Meanwhile, a far more successful Lynx World, Lynx Edicions set an audacious goal:
project is moving in a new direction. Lynx to create scholarly documentation and illus-
Edicions, publishers of Handbook of the Birds trations of the plumages, life histories, and
of the World, and the Cornell Lab of systematics of all the world’s birds in a single,
Ornithology have announced a new partner- monumental reference series. That goal was
ship, with Cornell providing a permanent accomplished with the completion of the 17-
online home for HBW along with the hun- volume set in 2013.
dreds of thousands of photos, video and ‘Alongside the HBW series, in 2002 Lynx
sound files collated by Lynx’s Internet Bird developed and launched the Internet Bird
Collection (IBC). Collection – an online community archive of
In its press release Lynx said: ‘These two multimedia celebrated by thousands of bird
grand-scale projects will undergo further enthusiasts around the world. As HBW Alive
expansions and enhancements in their new was launched, the IBC enhanced its sister
digital home at the Cornell Lab, benefiting project via direct links to rich media that
from the Lab’s technological infrastructure illustrate important facets of behaviour
for supporting web-based publications, the described in the HBW Alive accounts.
Macaulay Library’s 100-year legacy of media ‘We particularly welcome the opportunity
archives and capabilities, and the rapidly to bring together our worldwide contributor
growing data resources and global birding communities to share in further developing
community of eBird. these resources.’
‘With the Handbook of the Birds of the

Another Hen Harrier goes missing

The roll-call of satellite-tagged young Hen lowland Britain when he was presumably
Harriers Circus cyaneus ‘missing in action’ shot (the satellite tag had been performing
continues; the latest suspicious disappearance ‘brilliantly’ according to RSPB staff, so for it
occurred in lowland England, in Wiltshire. to suddenly stop transmitting is highly suspi-
The latest bird to go missing is ‘Vulcan’, a cious), away from the high-risk areas of
young male that was one of 11 chicks to driven grouse moors in northern Britain.
fledge from nests in Northumberland in Ironically, he disappeared barely 30 km from
summer 2018. It’s the second satellite-tagged the site of Natural England’s proposed rein-
Hen Harrier from Northumberland to disap- troduction site for (young continental) Hen
pear since last summer: in August 2018 a Harriers at Parsonage Down NNR, near
female named ‘Athena’ vanished in suspicious Salisbury Plain, part of its widely derided
circumstances in Inverness-shire. Hen Harrier Action Plan (which also includes
Vulcan was tracked by the RSPB from the ‘brood management’ of Hen Harrier
Northumberland to the Peak District, where he clutches away from northern grouse moors).
remained throughout September, before con- Gareth Cunningham, the RSPB’s Head of
tinuing farther south through Hampshire and Nature Policy, said: ‘The RSPB has serious
Dorset. On 16th January his tag sent out its reservations about this approach to Hen
final transmission, from a location south of Harrier conservation in England, and there-
the village of Calstone Wellington, in Wiltshire. fore is not supporting the reintroduction
RSPB Investigations staff searched the project. The disappearance of Vulcan raises
area, which is farmland heavily managed for concerns over the safety of any birds poten-
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus and partridge tially reintroduced to this part of the world,
shooting, but there was no sign of Vulcan or and we believe ending illegal Hen Harrier
his tag: this is the 11th satellite-tagged Hen persecution is the first and most important
Harrier to disappear since last summer. step that needs to be taken to restore the UK
It is especially worrying that Vulcan was in population.’

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 185 – 189 187

News and comment

Jailed egg thief ’s haul successfully hatched and reared

Several of the South African raptor eggs and the UK by strapping them to his chest in a
chicks seized when serial egg thief Jeffrey sling hidden beneath a heavy coat, but was
Lendrum was arrested at Heathrow Airport caught by customs officials and sentenced to
in June 2018 (Brit. Birds 112: 126–127) have three years and one month in jail.
been successfully hatched and reared at the Jemima Parr y-Jones, director of the
International Centre for Birds of Prey in Centre, said: ‘This kind of crime is heart-
Gloucestershire. breaking because it puts everybody like us
The Centre reared three Cape Vultures into disrepute and at the same time Lendrum
Gyps coprotheres, which are designated as is impacting the wild bird population in
Endangered and are found at only one other its native countries by depleting it.’
breeding centre in the UK. Eggs belonging to Although the seized raptors have been
African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, Black hand-reared and cannot therefore be released
Sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus and back into the wild, it’s hoped that any off-
African Hawk-Eagle Aquila spilogaster were spring from captive breeding will eventually
also successfully hatched. be released back into their natural habitat in
Lendrum had attempted to smuggle 19 South Africa.
eggs and two chicks from South Africa into

Birdfair 2019 to support Cambodian conservation project

The 2018 Birdfair was another monumental five Critically Endangered birds. This area of
money-spinner for conservation – more than dry forest and savanna is one of the last
23,000 visitors to the fair helped raise strongholds for the Giant Ibis Pseudibis gigan-
£322,000 to support the creation of tea and White-shouldered Ibis P. davisoni,
Argentina’s largest national park – the Mar which are ‘flagship species’ for conservation in
Chiquita complex of saline lagoons. This Cambodia. Indeed, Giant Ibis was designated
takes the total raised by Birdfair over its 30- as the country’s national bird in 2005.
year history to more than £5m. The forests at Western Siem Pang are
At the cheque presentation to BirdLife at some of the last remnants of a huge forest
Rutland Water in March it was revealed that ecosystem that once covered most of central
the 2019 Birdfair, which will take place on Indochina, and besides the two ibises, the
16th–18th August, will fundraise for BirdLife’s area also has populations of three species of
‘Conserving Cambodia’s Big Five’ project. vulture – White-rumped Gyps bengalensis,
This project will secure protection for Slender-billed G. tenuirostris and Red-headed
Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary and its Sarcogyps calvus.

Tim’s chums’ owl

The Tengmalm’s Owl Aegolius funereus that see the Shetland owl, there was a particular
took up residence in Mainland Shetland in sense of closure after nearly four decades.
February/March (plate 135, p. 238) had a The bird had additional significance for
special meaning for many birders. Although one band of birders from Tyneside who made
not the first long-stayer, it was the first-ever the Tengmalm’s trek. They were completing a
twitchable individual, as previous birds had quest that had started a year previously but
been inaccessible or suppressed. The bird which arguably started 67 years before that.
which spent three weeks in the same bush at Kevin Bayes, Mike Carr, Alan Curry, Iain
Spurn, Yorkshire, in March 1983 is still con- Johnson, Martin Kerby, Adrian Pitches and
troversial 36 years later. So for Yorkshire Duncan Watson were good friends of Tim
birders who made the long journey north to Cleeves, who died suddenly in December

188 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 185 – 189

News and comment

2017 (Brit. Birds 111: 112–113). of his favourite birding locations, where he
Like all people who are taken too soon, first met his wife Ann and where her hugely
Tim left unfinished business, including a successful Shetland novels were set. The ‘A’
(BOU) British List that stood at 495 when he Team – Mike, Alan and Martin – were en
died, five short of the totemic 500. So his route within 48 hours of the bird’s discovery
friends resolved to get him over the line and but their first day on Shetland drew a blank.
the quest to ‘get Tim to 500’ began. What Returning the next day, they were successful –
vagrants, taxonomic shifts or armchair ticks Tim had his 500th British bird. Meanwhile,
would help them reach that target? the ‘B’ Team – Kevin, Iain, Adrian and Duncan
In late spring 2018 the Moltoni’s Warbler – were on another ferry, hoping to share the
Sylvia subalpina in Norfolk in May was fol- moment, but the day after their friends had
lowed by a dawn raid on Sussex in June for enjoyed the owl, they drew a blank. The bird’s
the fleeting (American) Royal Tern Thalasseus one day on, one day off, pattern foiled their
maximus. October of that year duly delivered initial attempt and the stragglers had to return
two ticks within a week for Tim’s ‘wanted list’: home that night, empty-handed. But this
Grey Catbird Dumetella carolinensis in quest was personal and when the owl was dis-
Cornwall and a (DNA-confirmed) Stejneger’s covered in neighbouring Tresta, Iain, Adrian
Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri in Norfolk. All of and Duncan returned to Shetland; and it was
the birds were watched through Tim’s binoc- second time lucky. Collectively they had deliv-
ulars and a celebratory Bristol Rovers scarf ered Tim’s final five British birds and could
(Tim’s team) was flourished. Within a year of finally hang up his binoculars.
his death, Tim’s list was on 499. If this story resonates with the reader, you
The final bird had to be something special: can make a contribution to Tim’s memory
not a taxonomic revision or armchair tick – it too – his daughter Ruth has set up a Just
required an epic journey for a legendary bird. Giving page for the mental health charity
And then that owl arrived in Shetland. How Mind
fitting if Tim’s 500th was to be logged in one ruth-raynor1

Correction African Bird Club

Following the February issue of BB, and the The African Bird Club (www.africanbird
paper on the Brighton Rarities (Brit. Birds is holding its AGM at the Flett
112: 89–98), Geir Mobakken wrote in to Theatre in the Natural History Museum,
point out that in addition to the White- Cromwell Road, London, on Saturday 13th
winged Lark Alauda leucoptera records men- April. Doors open at 9.30 am and there is a
tioned in that paper, there are two accepted full programme of lectures featuring Yahkat
records from Norway, both in 2015, on 20th Barshep, Nigel Collar, Dick Forsman, Sarah
May and 16th June. This would seem to Havery, Stephen Pringle and Nigel Redman.
emphasise the months of May and June as The meeting is open to both members and
the best time to find this species in Europe. non-members of the Club.

New county recorders

North-east Scotland Ian Broadbent, 18 Abbotshall Drive, Cults, Aberdeen AB15 9JD,
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British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 185 – 189 189

Redstart hybrids in
Europe and North Africa
Nicolas Martinez, Bernd Nicolai and
Vincent van der Spek
Abstract An analysis of 121 wild Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros x Common
Redstart P. phoenicurus hybrids from Europe and North Africa is presented, with an
overview of distribution, phenology, habitat, biometrics, phenotypes and
vocalisations. Records of hybrid redstarts have increased markedly over the past 30
years. Such birds show an intermediate phenology but in terms of habitat choice
are more similar to Black Redstarts. No wild female hybrids were found, which
must be related to reduced detectability. The locally more abundant species usually
plays the role of the female in mixed pairs and in pairs with male hybrids. Plumage
variation within male hybrids is higher than previously documented. Primary spacing
ratio and the presence of emarginations on P6 are useful identification features for
hybrids, but there is substantial overlap with both parental species, and with
‘Eastern Black Redstart’, especially P. o. phoenicuroides. Song of hybrids may approach
Black Redstart in structure and presence of the ‘scratchy’ part, but matches
Common Redstart in pace and strophe length.

Introduction migratory behaviour, at least in captivity

In Europe, Black Redstarts Phoenicurus (Berthold & Querner 1995; Berthold et al.
ochruros gibraltariensis and nominate 1996).
Common Redstarts P. p. phoenicurus (here- Natural (= wild) redstart hybrids were
after gibraltariensis and phoenicurus respec- first described by Kleinschmidt (1907/08)
tively) originally occupied different habitats: and Heim de Balsac (1929); Droz (2011) gave
gibraltariensis bred in alpine regions and a recent overview, describing 39 hybrids.
phoenicurus in wooded habitats, and contact Male hybrids share many similarities with
zones were restricted to the upper tree line. ‘Eastern Black Redstart’, especially the
However, when both species began to rufous-bellied form P. o. phoenicuroides that
colonise human settlements, a secondary breeds in Central Asia and has occurred as
contact zone emerged (Ertan 2002): gibral- a vagrant to Europe (Ebels et al. 2018),
tariensis occupied buildings as an alternative prompting identification papers such as
to rocky areas, while phoenicurus settled in Nicolai et al. (1996), Lindholm (2001), Steijn
orchards, villages and parks. This probably (2005), Petersson et al. (2014), Stoddart
resulted in an increase in hybridisation (2016) and van der Spek & Martinez (2018).
(Ertan 2002). Niche separation in urban Box 1 presents an overview of the separation
environments was studied by Grosch (2003, of hybrids and Eastern Black Redstarts.
2004) and Sedláček et al. (2004), and the Based on 121 redstart hybrids from
former carried out experiments with hybrids Europe and North Africa, we present an
and backcrosses. Others investigated the overview that covers variation in phenotypes,
genetic component of migratory behaviour distribution, phenology, vocalisations and
(gibraltariensis is a short-distance migrant analyses of mixed pairs; to our knowledge,
while phoenicurus is a long-distance migrant) this is the most extensive work on natural
and showed that hybrids exhibit intermediate redstart hybrids.

190 © British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

Methods song. Note that in Common Redstart song the

Data collection final flourish consists of mimicry and this can
We searched for records of redstart hybrids include Black Redstart song. Mixed singers
and mixed broods in published literature and differ by copying complete strophes. Seemingly
online. Additional observations were collected classic-looking gibraltariensis that regularly
from direct contacts and online searches (the give phoenicurus song were not found.
following internet platforms were searched
systematically:, Analyses,, Potential hybrids were classified based on,, available descriptions, images and/or mea- and national/regional surements and assigned to one of the fol-
ornitho-platforms from Austria, Catalunya, lowing categories: 1 = confirmed hybrid
France, Germany and Switzerland). For each (wing measurements); 2 = confirmed hybrid
hybrid claim, we collected all available infor- (images); 3 = confirmed hybrid (description
mation on phenotype, arrival date, breeding, and/or earlier publication); 4 = unconfirmed
song and call, including recordings and hybrid (claims without description or
images. In many cases we contacted observers images; also records of Eastern Black
directly, for more specific information. Redstarts not accepted by national rarity
References to all analysed birds and additional committees when a hybrid was considered
photographs can be found at https:// the more likely option); 5 = hybrid or ‘red- bellied’ gibraltariensis; 6 = ‘red-bellied’ gibral-
-hybriden. For the analysis of ‘mixed singers’ tariensis (birds with extensive red on the
we searched only and com- underparts that otherwise have characters
bined the results with our own and published only of gibraltariensis). Whenever possible,
observations. Mixed singers were defined as photographed birds were aged by the
birds that resemble classic male phoenicurus in presence/absence of moult limits and adult-
appearance but regularly give gibraltariensis type greater-coverts.

D. Kratzer

111. Male hybrid Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros x Common Redstart P. phoenicurus
(foreground) with male Black Redstart P. o. gibraltariensis, Wyhlen, Germany, 31st March 2012.
This hybrid was seen in a flock of no fewer than 153 gibraltariensis. It can be separated from
‘Eastern Black Redstart’ P. o. phoenicuroides by (for example) the white undertail-coverts,
a shallow dark breast-patch and a large white belly-patch.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 191

Martinez et al.

To assess differences in phenology, we tion on plumage features. Grosch (2000) and

compared arrival dates (first sighting date) of Ertan (2002) collected biometric data; we
both parental species from Germany (from combined these with data from wild hybrids. accessed in August 2017) For many singing hybrids and mixed
with those of hybrids from the Benelux singers, short descriptions of the song were
countries, Germany and Switzerland. We available. To a much lesser extent this was
used hybrids from these countries only also true for calls. Wherever possible, for
because they are from a similar geographical both song and calls, we assigned each bird to
area. We assessed the breeding habitat for one of the following five categories: similar to
each territorial hybrid and mixed singer and gibraltariensis; similar to phoenicurus;
assigned these to seven different categories. mixture of both species; both species alter-
Based on available information on habitat nately; and atypical vocalisations. For a few
choice (Cramp 1988; Glutz von Blotzheim & hybrids and mixed singers, recordings were
Bauer 1988) and our own experience, we available. These were analysed with Raven
compared the habitat of hybrids and mixed Lite and the number of song strophes
singers with that of both parental species. according to the five categories above were
Only photographed birds were used to noted. For complete gibraltariensis strophes,
analyse plumage variation. Using a set of pre- the total length and the length of the pause
defined criteria (table 2), six main plumage before the scratchy part was measured and
types were identified. Nearly 100 hybrids compared with strophes of pure gibral-
were bred in the 1990s by Peter Berthold’s tariensis. We defined complete gibraltariensis
group (Vogelwarte Radolfzell), with inter- strophes as those starting with some clear
esting results on genetics (Ertan 2002, 2006), notes that may form a trill, followed by a
migration (Berthold et al. 1996; Berthold pause, continued with a scratchy part and
2001), habitat selection, and foraging ending with a couple of trills. Note that the
behaviour (Grosch 2000, 2003, 2004). To our scratchy part can be replaced by heavily mod-
knowledge, there are no detailed studies on ulated trills.
morphology and plumage, although some
relevant information is given in Grosch Results
(2000), Ertan (2002) and Steijn (2005). In Temporal and geographical occurrence
2011–12, seven captive-bred hybrids (four Reports of hybrids were rare until 1990, but
males, two females and one female then increased strongly (fig. 1). For this
F2 hybrid) were transferred to Museum study, we used observations of 121 hybrid
Heineanum in Halberstadt. As they had been males (categories 1–3, table 2): 30 confirmed
kept in aviaries and their bodies then stored by biometrics, 48 by photographs and 43
in freezers, their condition is not perfect, but described and/or from previous publications
since their parental origin was known, these (without images). Four poorly marked birds,
birds provided valuable additional informa- still clearly identifiable as males, were
observed in autumn and
may have been 1CY
16 birds. We found no con-
firmed wild female
no. recorded hybrids

12 hybrids (but see captive
10 hybrids, below).
8 Redstart hybrids have
6 been observed across
4 Europe, in at least 16
2 countries. Records are
0 especially numerous in
1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 Germany (47 birds),
Fig. 1. Number of Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros x Common Switzerland (17), France
Redstart P. phoenicurus hybrids recorded annually in Europe and (8), the Netherlands (8)
North Africa, 1900–2017 (n=121). and Sweden (8). There

192 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

hybrid Black x Common Redstart

hybrid or ‘red-bellied’ gibraltariensis
unconfirmed hybrids

Map: Natural Earth (

Fig. 2. Records of Black Redstart x Common Redstart hybrids in Europe (yellow dots; n=121),
plus seven records of birds that are either hybrids or ‘red-bellied’ P. o. gibraltariensis (orange) and
an additional 31 sightings of unconfirmed hybrids (white).

are relatively few records from southern phoenicurus, while in central Europe 17 of
Europe: Italy (6), Spain (2) and Albania (1, the 22 mixed pairs (77%) comprised a male
Ernst 2017). One in Ukraine in 2014 phoenicurus and a female gibraltariensis.
(Fesenko & Shybanov 2016) is the only Hybrid males also breed. Of 34 breeding
record east of Poland (3) and south of attempts by male hybrids with (assumed)
Fennoscandia (fig. 2). Two records from pure females (of either species), two pairs
Morocco are the only confirmed hybrids abandoned their nests before laying. Of the
from North Africa (Demey 2009; Robel & remaining 32 pairs, at least 20 were suc-
Nicolai 2009). cessful: 24 pairs comprised a hybrid male and
a gibraltariensis female (75%), and eight pairs
Mixed pairs and breeding hybrids a hybrid male and a phoenicurus female
We found 29 mixed gibraltariensis and (25%). Again, all hybrids from Fennoscandia
phoenicurus pairs, of which at least 18 bred. were paired with phoenicurus females (five
Seventeen pairs were formed by a phoeni- pairs), whereas most hybrids from central
curus male and a gibraltariensis female, and Europe were paired with gibraltariensis
12 pairs were composed of a phoenicurus females (24 of 27 pairs, 89%).
female and a gibraltariensis male. Of the 17
which involved phoenicurus males, five (29%) Phenology of hybrids and parental
males were mixed singers and one performed species
a typical phoenicurus song (see vocalisations In Europe, hybrids are most often detected in
section, below); no information was available spring: 82% of all records occur between mid
for the remaining 11 males. There was a clear March and late June, with a much smaller
difference between Fennoscandia and central autumn peak in September and October (fig.
Europe in the composition of the pairs. All 3). The earliest observation of a certain
seven mixed pairs from Fennoscandia were hybrid in Europe is 7th March 1997, in
formed by a male gibraltariensis and a female Rome, Italy (Bulgarini & Fraticelli 1998); the

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 193

Martinez et al.

(ringed at Subigerberg,
Switzerland; T. Lüthi in litt.), 8th
October 2008 (photographed at
Cap Ferret, France; L. Barbaro,
no. observed birds

14 and
12th October 2012 (ringed and
10 photographed on Lampedusa,
8 Italy; G. Papale in litt.).
6 Records of hybrids from
4 Germany, Switzerland and the
2 Benelux countries (n=48) suggest
0 that their phenology in spring falls
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
in between the peak of the two
Fig. 3. Timing of hybrid Black Redstart x Common Redstart parental species. Hybrids peak
sightings in Europe (n=112). Nine returning birds were around 1st–10th April, while
counted for each year they were seen, of which five birds gibraltariensis peak between 21st
returned once, and four returned twice. March and 10th April and phoeni-
curus 21st–30th April (fig. 4).
30 hybrid
no. observations (%)

25 phoenicurus Habitat
20 gibraltariensis The majority of the territorial male
15 hybrids were present in anthro-
10 pogenic habitats, where gibral-
5 tariensis is typically abundant
0 (mainly in villages and dense
1–10 11–20 21–31 1–10 11–21 21–30 1–10 11–20
human settlements) but where
March April May
phoenicurus occurs too (table 1).
Fig. 4. Spring phenology of Black Redstart x Common Significant numbers were also
Redstart hybrids (blue, n=48) in Germany, Switzerland and found in dense human settlements
the Benelux countries compared with gibraltariensis (grey, with few green areas, as well as in
97,165 observations) and phoenicurus (orange, 51,392
observations) in Germany (data from for
city centres and similar habitats
both species). Returning hybrids were counted for each year lacking green areas or trees. Only
they appeared. a minority of hybrids were
observed in typical ‘phoenicurus-
latest records of confirmed hybrids from only’ habitats. Mixed singers occur in approxi-
mainland Europe are 8th October 1993 mately similar habitats.

Table 1. Habitat of territorial Black Redstart x Common Redstart hybrids (n =54) and
mixed singers (n =19) compared with habitat choice of P. o. gibraltariensis and P. phoenicurus.
Key: – mostly absent or very rare, + rare, ++ local, +++ abundant.

habitat gibraltariensis hybrid (%) mixed singer (%) phoenicurus

forest, forest margin – 11 11 +++
orchard – 0 11 +++
open landscape with single ++ 13 5 ++
buildings, urban green zones
villages +++ 29 15 ++
dense human settlements with +++ 26 37 +
few green zones/trees
city centres and similar habitats +++ 16 21 –
lacking green zones/trees
alpine habitat +++ 5 0 –

194 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

Table 2. Variation of six plumage features based on images of 76 male Black Redstart x
Common Redstart hybrids (plus 14 images of returning males from subsequent years, since
adults can differ from 2CY birds). Note that not all features could be assigned for all birds.
BR = gibraltariensis, CR = phoenicurus. Note that types 1–3 are merged in one column, since they
differ only in the presence/absence of the white wing-panel and the (size of the) white forehead

feature types 1–3 type 4 type 5 type 6 (hybrid total total

(‘classic’) (‘pale’) (similar to or red-bellied (n) (%)
phoenicurus) gibraltariensis)
white absent 14 9 6 0 29 38
wing-panel hint, whitish margins 11 0 1 0 12 16
on (some) secondaries
present, but clearly 18 0 0 0 18 23
less than in BR, white
prominent, solid 8 0 0 10 18 23
white as BR

forehead white forehead as CR 12 2 6 0 20 25

(prominent, solid white,
widest over bill)
some white feathers, 38 6 2 1 47 59
not solid patch
no white feathers 3 1 0 9 13 16

black bib black bib as CR 1 0 1 0 2 2

black bib larger 27 7 7 0 41 51
than CR, but similar
shape, red triangle
black bib clearly more 17 2 0 0 19 23
extensive than
CR, sides black
breast black, 9 0 0 6 15 18
horizontal line
red up to belly 1 0 0 4 5 6

black/red sharp, clear line, 2 3 3 0 8 10

transition sharp, but irregular line 33 3 4 0 40 49
indistinct (few 15 3 1 3 22 27
feathers ‘mixed’)
poorly defined 4 0 0 7 11 14

belly patch as CR 11 5 3 1 20 31
prominent, but 16 0 1 4 21 33
less than CR
only between legs 19 0 2 2 23 36
absent 0 0 0 0 0 0

back grey as CR 5 4 1 0 10 14
dark grey 25 2 3 1 31 45
(darker than CR)
greyish-black 16 0 2 8 26 37
black 2 0 0 1 3 4

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 195

Martinez et al.

Plumage variation usually considered important in redstart

All photographed male hybrids were assigned hybrids (Steijn 2005; van der Spek &
to one of six hybrid phenotypes (table 2). Martinez 2018).
Three of these (types 1, 2 and 3) largely cor- Some of the observed variation is age-
respond to birds illustrated in Nicolai et al. related. The ‘pale’ type 4 seems to be a first-
(1996). In such birds, the black bib is clearly summer phenotype: all ‘pale’ birds showed
larger than in phoenicurus, but it is still signs of immaturity, such as worn brown pri-
restricted to the breast and it has neat edges. maries. Moreover, there were two records from
Types 1, 2 & 3 – defined here as ‘classic types’ Germany where a hybrid with orange under-
– differ in the presence or absence of a white parts was observed at exactly the same loca-
wing-panel and the amount of white on the tion where a territorial pale bird was present a
forehead (see fig. 5); 69% of hybrids were year earlier. Other variation seems to be
assigned to these three phenotypes. The related again to age, but also to wear. As in
remaining types are 4 (birds with an gibraltariensis, a prominent white wing-panel
extremely pale, cream to greyish body with appears only in adult males (14 of 22 birds
only slight orange hue; 10%), 5 (birds that aged as 3CY males or older showed a large
are very similar to phoenicurus, but for which panel); 84% of all March and April hybrids
the size of the black bib clearly exceeds the (both aged and non-aged birds) showed a
normal variation; 12%), and 6 (males with a white wing-panel. The panel seems to be
rusty-orange belly and (lower) breast, which (partly) lost through wear as the spring pro-
are otherwise extremely similar to gibral- gresses, however: only 20% of the birds photo-
tariensis – i.e. hybrid or red-bellied gibral- graphed in May and June showed a pale panel
tariensis; 9%). Birds of all six phenotypes although there is no reason to assume that
show some variation in plumage features there should be fewer adults among them. In

Type 6 (‘hybrid or red-bellied BR’)

Type 5 (‘similar to CR’)

Type 1 (‘classic’)

Type 4 (‘pale’)


Type 3 (‘classic except

for wing and front’) Type 2 (‘classic except for wing’)

Fig. 5. Proportion of male Black Redstart x Common Redstart hybrids (n=76, plus 14 images of
returning males) assigned to six hybrid phenotypes.
Image credits (clockwise from Type 1): M. Frede, T. Sörensen, H. Blockx, A. Barras, J. Honold, M. Roost.

196 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

V. Keinath
112. Photographs of the same adult (3CY+) Black Redstart x Common Redstart hybrid, Hausen,
Germany, 2007. These images, taken in April, May and July (left to right), illustrate how the white
wing-panel is lost due to wear. This individual is separable from Eastern Black Redstart by (for
example) the large wing-panel and large forehead patch, though the quality of these images does
not allow all relevant features to be checked.

addition, several known adult

birds in May and June lacked a
white wing-panel (plates 112 &
113). A feature that changes
after the post-breeding moult is
the transition between the
black bib and the orange belly:
new greyish feather margins

N. Martinez
result in a somewhat indistinct
edge between the black bib and
the orange belly in autumn.
Consequently, the black bib
113. Adult (3CY+) male Black Redstart x Common Redstart
often appears larger in autumn hybrid with heavily abraded wing feathers, Wenslingen, Switzerland,
hybrids. Similarly, the white 1st July 2017. Because of the heavy wear, the white wing-panel,
forehead seems to be obscured which may previously have been quite obvious, is barely visible.
by greyish feather margins after
moult in autumn (plate 114).

Phenotypes of captive-bred
Since the origin of captive-
bred birds is certain, we also
studied the seven birds at
Museum Heineanum (fig. 6)
and additional pictures of
captive-bred hybrids from
L. Fitze

Radolfzell (plate 115). Our

analysis led to the following
conclusions: 114. Typical autumn male Black Redstart x Common Redstart
1. All captive male F1 hybrids hybrid, Teufen, Switzerland, 27th August 2017. This bird shows a
belong to one of the three solid white wing-panel and greyish fringes to the breast feathers,
‘classic’ types (table 2). which produce a diffuse border between dark breast and orange
2. First- and second-calendar- belly. The primary spacing in the closed wing (the ratio of P6–P7:
P5–P6 equals 1:1.1 in this bird and excludes a red-bellied
year males lack the white gibraltariensis). It can be told from Eastern Black Redstart by
wing-panel. As in gibral- the square grey breast-patch, lacking an orange ‘triangle’ on the
tariensis, the white feather breast sides, a large amount of white on the underparts, the
margins are present only large white wing-panel and large white forehead patch.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 197

Martinez et al.

after the second complete moult of 2CY giving the impression of a rusty wing-bar.
birds in autumn. The white wing-panel These must have been inherited from
was present in adult male birds of both phoenicurus and they would be buff to
parental combinations (fig. 6). However, greyish in an Eastern Black Redstart (see
based on our data we cannot establish Box 1).
whether a white wing-panel is always 6. Female hybrids are extremely indistinct.
present in adult male F1 hybrids, regard- Although they are possibly a little warmer
less of the parental combination. toned, the females examined would
3. The extent of the black bib on the throat almost certainly be identified as gibral-
and upper breast is quite constant in the tariensis in the field. The same applies for
males analysed. Measured from bill base the F2 female illustrated in fig. 6.
to centre of the breast, the bib is approxi- 7. The only documented male backcross was
mately 35 mm deep. The edge between the the offspring of a hybrid female and a
black bib and the orange belly was some- gibraltariensis male (plate 115). The edges
what indistinct in the captive birds, owing of the black bib are less neat in this bird
to the presence of fresh feather margins than in F1 hybrids and the orange on the
after the post-breeding moult. belly is less intense.
4. The white belly-patch was indistinct and
did not reach further than the upper belly Measurements
in both 1CY and adult males. None of the Most measurements of hybrids are, pre-
birds had the belly ‘divided in two’, which dictably, intermediate between those of their
is commonly observed in phoenicurus and parental species (table 3). The only exception
regularly in wild hybrids. is the tail length of males, which seems to be
5. Body feathers on the back, the greater more comparable with that of gibraltariensis.
coverts and the tertials of all males had The intermediate nature of hybrids is
prominent rusty margins, sometimes even especially obvious in terms of wing shape: in

F1: ♂ad F1: ♂ad F1:♂1Y F1: ♀ F2: ♀

BR x CR CR x BR BR x CR BR x CR ♂BR x CR & ♀BR x CR

B. Nicolai

Fig. 6. Variation in captive-bred male and female Black Redstart (BR) x Common Redstart (CR)
hybrids from Vogelwarte Radolfzell.

198 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa
U. Querner

V. Keinath
115 & 116. Captive-bred male backcross (male P. o. gibraltariensis x hybrid, autumn bird) from
Vogelwarte Radolfzell, and a juvenile backcross of a pair formed by a male hybrid and a female

gibraltariensis the wing-tip is formed by four detectable geographical difference.

primaries (P3–P6, numbered ascendantly), At first sight, sound recordings of 14 dif-
whereas in phoenicurus the wing-tip is formed ferent hybrids confirm the observers’ infor-
by three (P3–P5). The wing shape of hybrids mation: 153 strophes were strongly
is intermediate and the primary length of P5, reminiscent of the full song of gibraltariensis
P6 and P7, as well as their relative distances, (including a ‘scratchy’ or heavily modulated
enable gibraltariensis and phoenicurus to be part), while 78 strophes corresponded with
excluded in many cases. Thus 72% of hybrids gibraltariensis partial song (without scratchy
have a ‘primary spacing ratio’ (P6–P7:P5–P6) parts) and 37 strophes sounded like a
between 1:1.2 and 1:2.0, which is out of the mixture of gibraltariensis and phoenicurus.
range for both gibraltariensis and phoenicurus. However, the recordings yielded no typical
Note, however, that seven out of 36 birds phoenicurus strophes at all.
(19%), including five wild birds, showed The hybrid strophes corresponding with
ratios >1:1.5, falling in the range of P. o. gibraltariensis seemed to be delivered at a
phoenicuroides (1:1.57–2.14; Steijn 2005). As higher pace, however, and may recall phoeni-
expected, backcrosses of hybrids with gibral- curus in this respect (fig. 7). The mean
tariensis approach gibraltariensis in mor- strophe length (full strophes) was 2.7 ± 0.4
phology. Again, the number of birds seconds (range 1.6–4.1) and, for full strophes
examined is low and variation in length of P6 that include the scratchy part, the mean
is high, with two birds showing extreme length of the gap between the first part
values resulting in primary spacing ratios and the scratchy part is 0.3 ± 0.2 seconds
outside the range of the parents, possibly (range 0.0–1.4, with 86% <0.5 seconds).
indicating a transmission error in these two Corresponding values based on 65 full stro-
cases. phes from ten different individual gibral-
tariensis are 3.8 ± 0.5 seconds (strophe
Vocalisations length, range 3.2–6.4), and 0.8 ± 0.6 seconds
According to the observers, 37/55 (67%) (gap before scratchy part, range 0.1–3.6,
hybrids gave song resembling gibraltariensis with 65% >0.5 seconds, recordings from
while another 12 (22%) gave either both In phoenicurus,
parents’ songs (three birds) or a mixed song strophe length is 0.9–2.9 seconds (Ayé et al.
(nine). Only five (9%) consistently sang like 2014), with the upper values corresponding
phoenicurus, while one bird was reported to to complete strophes. Furthermore, some
sound similar to a singing Common hybrids start their song with an element that
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs. There was no may recall the introductory whistle typical of

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 199

Table 3. Mean values for basic morphological measurements of Black Redstart x Common Redstart hybrids and backcrosses compared with phoenicurus, gibraltariensis
and phoenicuroides (measurements in mm). WL: wing length, TL: tail length, Ta: tarsus, FSp: foot span, Bb: bill depth (at feathering), Bm: bill depth (at nostrils), P: primary
(feather length). Sources: Ertan 2002 (WL, TL, Ta, P), Grosch 2000 (Fsp, Bb, Bm), Steijn 2005 (primary spacing ratio in P. o. phoenicuroides), Ertan 2002 combined with data
of wild hybrids (primary spacing ratio, emarginations).

phoenicurus hybrid backcross with gibraltariensis phoenicuroides

Martinez et al.

x ± SD n x ± SD n x ± SD n x ± SD n x ± SD n
WL ♀ 78.8 ± 2.10 7 82.6 ± 3.25 7 82.0 ± 2.65 3 84.4 ± 2.37 16 – –
♂ 80.6 ± 2.57 65 85.3 ± 1.90 6 84.5 ± 1.80 3 86.7 ± 1.60 32 84.7 ± 2.71 27
TL ♀ 54.4 ± 1.79 7 57.5 ± 1.35 7 59.0 ± 1.41 3 59.5 ± 2.14 16 – –
♂ 56.6 ± 2.19 65 60.7 ± 2.07 6 60.8 ± 1.53 3 60.3 ± 2.10 33 60.9 ± 2.16 27
Ta ♀ 21.6 ± 0.76 7 21.8 ± 0.98 7 21.7 ± 0.75 3 22.7 ± 0.94 16 – –
♂ 22.7 ± 0.95 65 22.9 ± 0.80 6 22.4 ± 0.15 3 23.9 ± 0.75 33 24.7 ± 0.89 22
FSp ♀&♂ 23.0 ± 0.10 19 24.0 ± 0.20 14 – – 24.0 ± 0.10 20 – –
Bb ♀&♂ 3.70 ± 0.10 19 3.6 ± 0.10 14 – – 3.40 ± 0.10 20 – –
Bm ♀&♂ 3.20 ± 0.00 19 3.1 ± 0.10 14 – – 2.90 ± 0.10 20 – –
P5 ♀ 61.0 ± 1.32 7 64.7 ± 1.47 7 65.3 ± 1.8 3 67.8 ± 1.47 16 – –
♂ 64.8 ± 2.10 65 67.8 ± 1.40 7 68.7 ± 2.4 3 71.0 ± 1.39 33 – –
P6 ♀ 58.0 ± 2.00 7 61.9 ± 0.94 7 63.7 ± 1.4 3 66.3 ± 1.33 16 – –
♂ 60.1 ± 1.83 65 64.2 ± 1.08 7 64.8 ± 3.3 3 68.7 ± 2.11 33 – –
P7 ♀ 54.6 ± 1.03 7 58.3 ± 1.19 7 59.5 ± 1.3 3 61.9 ± 1.32 16 – –
♂ 57.3 ± 1.77 65 59.8 ± 1.29 7 60.2 ± 1.0 3 64.3 ± 2.95 33 – –
Primary spacing ratio ♀&♂ 0.90 72 1.28 ± 0.32 36 2.20 ± 1.4 6 2.29 49 2.19 10
[P6–P7:P5–P6] (range) (0.41–1.17) (0.88 – 2.25) (0.4 – 4.5) (2.00 – 2.50) (1.57–3.0)
P6 emargination [presence] ♀&♂ 0% 72 45% 22 50% 6 100% 49 74% 27
P6 emargination length ♂ – 72 11.0 ± 2.1 6 15.0 ± 0.0 2 18.4 ± 1.69 33 16.8 ± 1.47 20
[when present] (range) (7–13) (14–19)

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

phoenicurus, but
note that gibral-
tariensis can start its
strophes the same
A similar pattern
was found in hybrid
calls: the majority
(n=13) called like
whereas two called
like phoenicurus
and three gave both
call types.
Of 43 mixed
singers (the birds
that looked like
pure phoenicurus
but regularly pro-
duced gibraltari -
ensis song strophes),
17 consistently sang Fig. 7. Examples of a typical song strophe from a Black Redstart x Common
like gibraltariensis. Redstart hybrid (classic type – Wenslingen, Switzerland, 2nd July 2017, based
Of the remainder, on a recording from T. Lüthi) compared with typical gibraltariensis and
12 alternated bet - phoenicurus song strophes (based on recordings by NM, made in Switzerland).
ween gibraltariensis
and phoenicurus strophes, five sang strophes the scratchy part was 0.4 ± 0.2 seconds
of both species as well as intermediate stro- (range 0.1–0.6).
phes, three altered between gibraltariensis
song and intermediate strophes and six sang Discussion
only intermediate strophes. We have informa- With 121 hybrids and 29 mixed pairs docu-
tion on calls for just nine mixed singers: three mented, redstarts are among the most fre-
called like normal phoenicurus, three like quently recorded European passerine hybrids
gibraltariensis and three produced both call between two clearly separated species
types. (McCarthy 2006). Hybrids were observed
Since only two singing birds were sound- throughout Europe in areas where both
recorded, we cannot present a general syn- parental species occur; the northern limit cor-
thesis, but for these two birds, 50 strophes responded with the northern limit of gibral-
were analysed: 24 strophes were strongly tariensis. An exponential increase in
reminiscent of gibraltariensis full song (11 observations over the past 30 years was noted,
with, 13 without the scratchy part); seven reflecting greater observer awareness and cov-
strophes corresponded to typical phoenicurus erage and the easy availability of records from
strophes; and 19 strophes sounded like a online databases, while the number of records
mixture of the two, several starting with from Switzerland, Germany and the Benelux
scratchy elements (fig. 8). countries is also likely to reflect the authors’
As in many hybrids, the strophes corre- locations. However, several other factors are
sponding to gibraltariensis full song were probably implicated. Following the range
given at a faster pace and recalled phoenicurus expansion of gibraltariensis and the colonisa-
in this respect: mean length of such strophes tion of human settlements, multiple sec-
was 2.9 ± 0.6 seconds (range 2.3–3.5, with ondary contact zones emerged (Cramp 1988;
one exception that lasted 5.3 seconds); and, Ertan 2002; Hagemeijer & Blair 1997).
for strophes with the scratchy part, the mean
length of the gap between the first part and Continued on page 204

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 201

Martinez et al.

Separation of ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ from Common Redstart BOX 1

and hybrids
Nicolai et al. (1996) were the first to address the identification problems of separating male
‘Eastern Black Redstart’ Phoenicurus ochruros phoenicuroides from a hybrid Black Redstart x
Common Redstart. Steijn (2005) mentioned several plumage features of hybrids, but it is the wing-
formula differences he described that are usually considered diagnostic. Van der Spek & Martinez
(2018) tackled differences in plumage in more detail. They showed that virtually all male hybrids
can be distinguished from Eastern Black Redstart by using a combination of plumage characters.
They also stressed that the wing-formula differences already described by Steijn (2005) show more
overlap than most birders realise; nonetheless, they remain important and may be crucial in the
case of tricky individuals.

Structure (Steijn 2005; present article)

General: although likely to be a small minority, some hybrids may show a wing formula similar to
Eastern Black (see table 3).

Emarginations: Eastern Black shows an emarginated P6 (numbered ascendantly, i.e. P1 is outer-

most)  in Common, P6 is not emarginated, while in hybrids the emargination may be missing or
reduced (this is often hard to judge in photographs).

Wing-tip: in Eastern Black the wing-tip is formed by P5 (P4 & P5 equally long)  in Common,
the wing-tip is formed by P4 (P3 & P4 equally long), while in hybrids it is variable (P4 or P5).

Primary spacing ratio: in Eastern Black the distance between the tips of P6 and P7 is roughly twice
as long as the distance between P5 (wing-tip) and P6  in Common, the spacing is roughly equal,
while in hybrids P6–P7 is about 1.5x that of P5–P6, but in extreme cases can overlap with both
Eastern Black and Common.

Plumage of male birds (from van der Spek & Martinez 2018)
G Hybrids can show a large white forehead patch, as in Common  autumn/winter Eastern Black
usually has a smaller white patch or white spotting but occasionally shows more extensive white.
G Around half of all hybrids show a largely or completely grey/black area between the black

117. Eastern Black Redstart, 1CY male, Skinningrove, Cleveland, November 2016. Primary ratio
P6/7:P5/6 equals 1:1.75 in this bird, which is typical for phoenicuroides but at the upper end for a
hybrid. The presence of an orange triangle on the breast-sides, the lack of a white wing-panel and
limited white on the forehead are plumage characters that clearly point towards an Eastern
Black Redstart. David Aitken

202 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

breast-patch and alula/lesser/median coverts  in Eastern Black there is invariably an orange ‘tri-
angle’ visible between breast-patch and wing-coverts.
G In some hybrids, the black breast-patch reaches the lower breast or even the belly  in Eastern
Black the breast-patch never extends this far down the breast.
G Hybrids occasionally show a square-shaped breast-patch  in Eastern Black it is always oval.
G The edges of the breast-patch are often poorly defined in hybrids  usually fairly neat in Eastern
G Hybrids can show grey or black feathers on the flanks  invariably orange in Eastern Black.
G Hybrids occasionally show isolated grey or black spots within the orange underparts (often hard
to judge in poor photographs)  probably never present in Eastern Black.
G A small minority of hybrids show pale underparts, with a faint orange hue at most  the under-
parts are invariably vivid orange in Eastern Black.
G The undertail-coverts are whitish (sometimes with a faint orange hue) in 20% of hybrids  the
undertail-coverts are orange in Eastern Black, although sometimes less vivid orange than the
G Around half of all hybrids show a broad, pure white band on the belly, reaching the breast or even
the breast-patch (dividing the belly in two)  fresh Eastern Black often shows narrow white
fringes to orange belly feathers, but these are never broad and do not ‘split’ the belly.
G A small white wing-panel is commonly found in hybrids  Eastern Black may show a small
wing-panel (contra Steijn 2005), even with whitish edges, but the vast majority show tertials and
secondaries edged buff rather than white.
G A large white wing-panel (as in adult Western Black) is found in a quarter of hybrids  never in
Eastern Black.
G In hybrids, rufous fringes to the greater-coverts and tertials occasionally form a small, rufous
wing-bar (often hard to judge in photographs)  these fringes are buff to greyish in Eastern
G Most hybrids have orange axillaries, but some show no or limited orange  the axillaries are
invariably orange in Eastern Black (and in Common).

Note: van der Spek & Martinez (2018) can be downloaded from
the-eastern-black-redstart-id-pages with additional information and photographs.

118. Eastern Black Redstart, 1CY male, Scalby, Yorkshire, November 2014. The dark breast-patch
is restricted to the upper breast and has fairly neat edges; the area between the breast-patch and
the wing-coverts is orange; narrow white fringes to the orange belly feathers are present but
very restricted (no broad white band on belly); and the undertail-coverts are vividly orange.
Graham Catley

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 203

Martinez et al.

‘into’ phoenicurus in
the north and gibral-
tariensis in central
Europe. The (rare)
incidence of gibral-
tariensis females pro-
ducing bluish eggs
(Nicolai 1995) may be
a result of such gene
The apparent lack
of wild female
hybrids is clearly
related to the reduced
detectability of birds
with plumages inter-
mediate between
gibraltariensis and
phoenicurus. Further-
more, the hetero -
zygous sex (ZW;
females in birds)
Fig. 8. Three examples of song strophes from a mixed singer (Ziefen,
is absent, rare, or
Switzerland, 2014, from recordings by S. Hohl and NM) showing variation
from typical phoenicurus strophes to rather typical gibraltariensis strophes. sterile in hybrids
Strophe length never exceeded 3.4 seconds in this bird. (‘Haldane’s Rule’;
Haldane 1922). Yet
Furthermore, phoenicurus has declined breeding experiments show that fertile
markedly in its European breeding range over females occur, although we were unable to
the past century (Bruderer & Hirschi 1984; trace the sex ratio of these captive-bred birds.
Zwarts et al. 2009). These opposing trends The arrival dates of phoenicurus, gibral-
may mean that it is more difficult for individ- tariensis and hybrids in central Europe seem
uals of the locally rarer species (gibraltariensis to confirm the intermediate migratory
in Fennoscandia, phoenicurus in parts of behaviour observed in experiments (Berthold
central Europe) to find a mate of their own & Querner 1995; Berthold et al. 1996).
species. Köpke (1986) suggested that the Records of hybrids on 7th March 1997 in
increased occurrence of isolated male phoeni- Rome (Bulgarini & Fraticelli 1998), on 24th
curus might have led to an increase of mixed March 2005 in the Balearic Islands (Pérez-
singers and hybridisation. Note, however, that Garcia & Sallent 2011), on Lampedusa on 2nd
in the past 20 years or so, phoenicurus has April 2007 (Brichetti & Fracasso 2008) and
apparently increased in several European 12th October 2012 (G. Papale in litt.), and in
countries (PECBMS 2010). We found few Morocco on 27th October 2008 (Demey
hybrids from eastern Europe, but assume that 2009) and 30th December 1998 (Robel &
observations will increase following the con- Nicolai 2009) – plus the apparent lack of
tinuing eastward spread of gibraltariensis. hybrids during winter in central and northern
Experiments with captive birds (Berthold et Europe – suggest that hybrids winter in
al. 1996; Grosch 2000; Ertan 2002) demon- southernmost Europe and North Africa. This
strated that hybrids are fertile and can have intermediate strategy has no obvious negative
viable offspring, which showed intermediate impact on survival, since several birds
characters (Lambert 1997; Salzmann & returned to the same territory in consecutive
Soerensen 2014; plates 115 & 116). Male years, two being observed in four consecutive
hybrids seem to pair mostly with a female of years (Nowak 1999; Lang in litt.).
the locally more abundant species, as in Most hybrids are found in typical gibral-
mixed pairs. Gene flow is thus likely to flow tariensis habitats. This could indicate a

204 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

genetic preference or could be the result of tioned above). However, backcrosses with a
birds occupying habitat similar to their wing formula identical to gibraltariensis
hatching grounds: many migrating passer- cannot be excluded without genetic analyses.
ines, including redstarts (own data), later Furthermore, the red belly could also be the
breed at or close to the site where they result of a former hybridisation event that
hatched. However, detectability is higher in occurred several generations earlier.
habitats occupied by gibraltariensis, which are We conclude that red-bellied gibral-
usually more open (hence birds are more tariensis, reminiscent of nominate ochruros,
visible) and with a higher density of human are genuinely rare. Based on our own studies,
observers than those of phoenicurus. the proportion lies well below 0.5%, which
The plumage variation of male hybrids is corresponds with data from the Swiss Ringing
higher than previously documented and station at Subigerberg, where only one of 786
includes differences between first-summer adult male gibraltariensis captured since 1980
(2CY) and adult birds and differences related was red-bellied (T. Roth & T. Lüthi in litt.).
to moult. It is worth re-emphasising that we This contradicts a study mentioned in Cramp
do not know the genetics of wild birds. (1988), in which 8% of gibraltariensis showed
Classic-looking birds are likely to be F1 a red belly. However, the latter was based on a
hybrids, an assumption supported by captive sample of only 50 birds from one site in
F1 birds. Others could be backcrosses, espe- which four birds had ‘belly and vent tinged
cially in the case of individuals strongly resem- rufous’. It seems likely that some of those
bling phoenicurus or gibraltariensis. These are birds had rusty tones on some belly feathers
the most problematic phenotypes, difficult or only, which is more common and does not
impossible to separate from aberrant pure recall typical ochruros (pers. obs.). Classic
birds (plate 119). For instance, seemingly pure hybrid types, notably the forms without an
gibraltariensis with red bellies are known to obvious wing-panel, can be difficult to tell
occur. We found two examples of birds exam- apart from Eastern Black Redstarts. Yet,
ined in the hand with rusty-orange feathers on through the combination of several plumage
the belly and lower breast that otherwise features, only a small percentage of hybrids is
showed all the features of gibraltariensis, truly challenging (see Box 1; also van der Spek
including wing formula (Nowak 1999; & Martinez 2018).
Such birds are
generally thought
to be aberrant or
‘extreme’ gibral-
tariensis, since
‘normal’ birds can
show a variable
amount of red on
the lower belly and
M. Roost

(Cramp 1988).
Eleven birds with
limited red on the 119. Redstart sp., Gurnigel, Switzerland, 21st September 2008. This bird
belly, and in some shows a black facial mask, white wing-panel, no apparent white forehead,
cases the lower greyish-orange flanks and belly, and diffuse breast-patch delimitation on the
breast, were consid- upper breast; it is thus classified as a hybrid or a red-bellied gibraltariensis
(type 6) in the present study. Without biometrics, such birds are best left
ered to be red- unidentified. Eastern Black Redstart can be excluded by the large, square-
bellied gib ralt ar i- shaped breast-patch (lacking the ‘orange triangle’), and the seemingly large
ensis (including the white belly-patch that divides the orange belly in two. The white wing-panel
two birds men- is also relatively large.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 205

Martinez et al.

There are two distinct plumages in imma- may have been dominant there. We did not,
ture male gibraltariensis. After the post- however, see any geographical patterns in
juvenile moult, approximatively 12% of 1CY terms of song, with gibraltariensis song being
males develop a blackish body similar to the dominant song for both mainland
adult males: the ‘paradoxus morph’ European and Fennoscandian hybrids.
(Kleinschmidt 1907/08; Nicolai et al. 1996). Songs of mixed singers by definition
Since they retain juvenile flight feathers, contain gibraltariensis elements, but are oth-
however, they lack the white wing-panel of erwise highly variable. Pace and song length
an adult male (birds that moult some tertials is generally typical for phoenicurus, however,
will show a very narrow ‘panel’, formed by even in strophes that strongly recall gibral-
the tertial edges). The majority of 1CY males, tariensis, which largely corresponds with pre-
the ‘carei morph’, are essentially female-like. vious studies (Hegelbach & Nabulon 1998;
As far as we know, there are no observations Brehme & Michaelis 2017). Without genetic
of either wild or captive hybrids of the ‘carei data, we can only speculate about the identity
morph’. Conceivably, the pale hybrid type is of mixed singers. They could be normal
related to this morph, but we conclude that phoenicurus that imitate gibraltariensis, prob-
the ‘carei morph’ is much rarer – if not absent ably because they copied elements of gibral-
– among hybrids. tariensis song after they fledged. Several
Our findings confirm that the primary mixed singers also gave gibraltariensis-like
spacing ratio and an emarginated P6 are calls, however, and since it is sometimes
good features for identification of F1 hybrids. assumed that calls have a stronger genetic
However, there is substantial overlap with component than song, this could point
both parental species, and even more so with towards a hybrid origin.
Eastern Black Redstart of the race P. o. Since male hybrids normally breed with
phoenicuroides (see table 3 and Box 1 for gibraltariensis females in central Europe, it
more information). Furthermore, back- would be expected that, unlike mixed singers,
crosses occur in the wild and measurements backcrosses should approach gibraltariensis
of captive backcrosses show that they can in plumage, although lack of knowledge of
approach either species. female hybrids is a gap in our understanding
In a significant proportion of the mixed here. In terms of mixed singers, we conclude
pairs, phoenicurus males were mixed singers. that if they are genetically pure phoenicurus,
For obvious reasons, their song may be more imitation of song is an important factor for
attractive to gibraltariensis females and their hybridisation between the two species, since
habitat choice probably facilitates mixed song differences are likely to form the
pairings, too. At first glance, gibraltariensis strongest prezygotic isolation barrier (Grosch
seems to be dominant in song and call and 2000). However, if mixed singers are back-
therefore many hybrids will probably go crosses, they are simply a direct consequence
unnoticed when heard only. This is mainly of a former hybridisation event. Genetic
due to the scratchy part: if present, this analyses would be extremely helpful to
would normally lead an observer to identify answer this open question.
the song as that of gibraltariensis, even if Landmann (1987), Berthold et al. (1996)
other aspects – for example pace and strophe and Ertan (2002) have already suggested the
length – are not typical. McCarthy (2006) existence of gene flow between gibraltariensis
suggested that the similarity of hybrid and and phoenicurus through introgressive
gibraltariensis song may be due to the fact hybridisation. Grosch (2003) suggested that
that gibraltariensis usually plays the role of gene flow between both species might be
male parent in this cross. He probably overes- limited by prezygotic rather than postzygotic
timated the similarity, however, and his isolation, and that differences in habitat
explanation ignores the fact that phoenicurus choice as well as song may form the strongest
is the male parent in most mixed pairs in isolation barriers. Separation through habitat
central Europe. Nonetheless, many mixed factors is reduced in secondary contact zones
broods occur in habitats more typical for near human settlements, and gene flow
gibraltariensis and the song of adjacent males between the species in Europe may therefore

206 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

continue to increase. In the long term, this Flycatchers to Thrushes. OUP, Oxford.
could even influence speciation, since new Demey, R. 2009. Recent Reports. Bull. Africa Bird Club
16: 99–111.
genetic variance introduced by hybridisation Droz, B. 2011. Capture d’un Rougequeue hybride
is estimated to be 2–3 times higher than in Phoenicurus ochruros x Ph. phoenicurus au Col de
gene mutation (Grant & Grant 1994). Jaman (VD, Suisse). Decription de l’individu et revue
des observations européennes. Nos Oiseaux 58:
Ebels, E. B., van der Laan, J., van der Schalk, M., & van
First of all, we would like to thank all observers of der Spek, V. 2018. Oosterse Zwarte Roodstaarten
hybrids, mixed singers and mixed broods for sharing in Nederland en voorkomen in Europa.
their observations either directly or online (see Dutch Birding 40: 152–166.
Appendix 1 & 2). We thank all photographers for their Ernst, S. 2017. Brutpaar aus Gartenrotschwanz-
permission to use their material. The following people Weibchen (Phoenicurus phoenicurus und Hybrid-
gave valuable comments on specific topics and helped Männchen Ph. ochruros x Ph. phoenicurus in Albanien.
to compile data from several countries: Sylvain Ornithol. Jber. Mus. Heineanum 34: 39–46.
Antionazza, Arnaud Barras, Stefan Brehme, Christian Ertan, K. T. 2002. Evolutionary Biology of the Genus
Brinkman, Andrea Corso, Wolfgang Dornberger, Boris Phoenicurus: phylogeography, natural hybridization
Droz, Dominic Eichhorn, Stefan Ernst, Mostafa Fareh, and population dynamics. Tectum Verlag, Marburg.
Johann Hegelbach, Michael Hellmann, Simon Hohl, — 2006. The evolutionary history of Eurasian
Johannes Honold, Volker Keinath, Alan Knox, Daniel redstarts, Phoenicurus. Acta Zool. Sinica 52. (Suppl.):
Kratzer, Manfred Lang, Michael Lay, Jörn Lehmhus, Tom 310–313.
Lindroos, Thomas Lüthi, Heiko Michaelis, Michael Fesenko, H. V., & Shybanov, S. Yu. 2016. Redstart bird
Nowak, Lukas Pelikan, Ulrich Querner, Simon Rixx, (Passeriformes, Muscicapidae) with non-typical
Martin Roost, Tobias Roth, George Sangster, Frank- plumage – interspecific hybrid or eastern
Ulrich Schmidt, Cyril Schönbächler, Manuel Schweizer, subspecies in fauna of Ukraine. Vestnik Zoologii
Tadeusz Stawarczyk, Norbert Teufelbauer and Bernard 50(4): 321–326.
Volet. Anonymous reviewers gave valuable comments Glutz von Blotzheim, U. N., & Bauer, K. (eds.) 1988.
on an earlier version of the article. We would also like Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas. Band 11/1.
to thank Peter Berthold, Gabriele Mohr and Rolf Aula Verlag, Wiesbaden.
Schlenker for the loan of specimens from Vogelwarte Grant, P. R., & Grant, R. 1994. Phenotypic and genetic
Radolfzell to Museum Heineanum, as well as Detlef effects of hybridization in Darwin’s finches.
Becker and Rüdiger Becker from Museum Heineanum Evolution 48: 297–316.
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Mischgesang bei Gartenrotschwanz (Phoenicurus distribution. Dutch Birding 27: 171–194.
phoenicurus) und Hausrotschwanz (Ph. ochruros). Stoddart, A. 2016. ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ – new to
Naturkdl. Mitt. Lks. Göppingen 18: 9–15. Britain. Brit. Birds 109: 211–219.
PECBMS. 2010. Trends of common birds in Europe, van der Spek, V., & Martinez, N. 2018. Identification and
2010 update. (Retrieved from temporal distribution of hybrid redstarts and Eastern Black Redstart in Europe. Dutch Birding 40:
on 22nd January 2018.) 141–151.
Pérez-Garcia, J. M., & Sallent, Á. 2011. Identificación de Zwarts, L., Bijlsma, R. G., & van der Kamp, J. 2009.
híbridos en el campo: el caso del anillamiento de Living on the Edge: wetlands and birds in a changing
un híbrido de Colirrojo tizón (Phoenicurus ochruros) Sahel. KNNV, Zeist.

Nicolas Martinez, Hintermann & Weber AG, Austrasse 2a, 4153 Reinach, Switzerland;
Bernd Nicolai, Herbingstraße 20, D-38820 Halberstadt, Germany; e-mail
Vincent van der Spek, Vrs Meijendel, Acaciastraat 212, 2565 KJ Den Haag, Netherlands;

Nicolas Martinez works as a biologist for an environmental consultancy. He has studied the biology of the
Common Redstart for more than ten years and is a member of the Swiss Rarities Committee. Bernd Nicolai
was director of the ornithological Museum Heineanum in Halberstadt from 1991 to 2016; he has studied the
biology and ecology of the Black Redstart for more than 40 years. Vincent van der Spek is an ecologist, birder,
bird ringer, writer and editor from the Netherlands and is a member of the Dutch Rarities Committee.

Appendix 1.
Records of hybrids between Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros and Common Redstart
P. phoenicurus, red-bellied P. o. gibraltariensis and hybrid claims considered in the article.
Categories: 1 = confirmed hybrid (wing measurements); 2 = confirmed hybrid (images);
3 = confirmed hybrid (description and/or earlier publication); 4 = unconfirmed hybrid (claims
without description or images; also records of ‘Eastern Black Redstart’ P. o. phoenicuroides not
accepted by national rarity committees when a hybrid was considered the more likely option);
5 = hybrid or ‘red-bellied’ gibraltariensis; 6 = ‘red-bellied’ gibraltariensis.
Details of each record (separated by / ) are presented in the following sequence: date (day.month.year), location,
country, reference and category. Country codes: AL – Albania, AT – Austria, BE – Belgium, CH – Switzerland, DE –
Germany, DK – Denmark, ES – Spain, FI – Finland, FR – France, GB – Great Britain, IT – Italy, LU – Luxembourg,
MA – Morocco, NL – the Netherlands, NO – Norway, PL – Poland, SE – Sweden, UA – Ukraine.

1889, Marburg, DE (Kleinschmidt 1903) cat. 6 / 18.04.1906, Taucha bei Leipzig, DE (Kleinschmidt 1907/08) cat. 3 /
May 1929, Meurthe-et-Moselle, FR (Heim de Balsac 1929, Bull. Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle 2e Serie 1: 304–
306) cat. 3 / 15.09.1932, Ungiasca de Cossogno, IT (Moltoni 1946, Rivista italiana di Ornitologia, 2nd Ser., 16: 169–172)
cat. 1 / 1932, Leipzig, DE (Dathe 1950, Ornithol. Mitt. 2: 59–62) cat. 3 / 25.05.1948, Helgoland, DE (Ringleben 1958,

208 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Redstart hybrids in Europe and North Africa

Vogelwarte 15: 40–41) cat. 3 / 13.10.1975, Bryher, Scilly, GB (Stoddart 2016) cat. 4 / 15.10.1978, Saltfleetby, Lincolnshire,
GB (Stoddart 2016) cat. 3 / 1978–79, Regensburg, DE (Klose 1986, Anz. der Ornithol. Gesellschaft in Bayern 24: 184)
cat. 3 / 03.10.1979, Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, GB (Stoddart 2016) cat. 4 / 31.05.1987, Oerlinger Ried, CH
(S. Gysel in Droz 2011) cat. 3 / June 1987, Gothenburg, SE (Andersson 1988, Vår Fågelvärld 47: 149–150) cat. 3 / May
1988, Köln, DE (Grosch 2000) cat. 3 / 16.10.1988, Donna Nook, Lincolnshire, GB (Stoddart 2016) cat. 4 / 21.07.1989,
Lac de Bouverans, FR (D. Michelat & M. Montadert in Droz 2011) cat. 3 / 02.06.1990, Harlingen, NL (A. van den
Berg, cat. 3 / 12.10.1991, Flamborough Head, Yorkshire, GB (Stoddart 2016)
cat. 4 / 1992, Donzdorf-Unterweckerstell, DE (Nowak 1999) cat. 3 / 26.05.1993, Läufelfingen, CH (Blattner &
Kestenholz 1993, Ornithol. Beob. 90: 241–245) cat. 1 / 08.10.1993, Subigerberg, CH (T. Lüthi, T. Schwaller,, cat. 2 / 16.05.1994, Donzdorf-Unterweckerstell, DE (Nowak 1999) cat. 4 / 29.05.1994,
Oberhof, DE (Nowak 1999) cat. 3 / 15.09.1994, Donzdorf, DE (Nowak 1999) cat. 3 / 1994, Malmö, SE (Olsson 1994
in Petersson et al. 2014) cat. 3 / May 1995, Agadir, MA (Robel & Nicolai 2009) cat. 4 / May 1995, Casablanca, MA
(Robel & Nicolai 2009) cat. 4 / 12.06.1995, Bad Harzburg, DE (Heuer 1999, Milvus 18: 57–58) cat. 1 / 20.04.1996,
Mardorf, DE (Frauendorf, Gunther, Schrack & Ernst 1997, Mitt. Ver Säch. Orn. 8: 105–109) cat. 3 / 21.04.1996,
Niederstetten, DE (Dornberger, Dehner & Nicolai 1996, Faun. & Flor. Mitt. Taubergrund 14: 36–46) cat. 1 / 22.04.1996,
Insbeck Wevelinghoven, DE (Frede 2012, Charadrius 48: 84–86) cat. 2 / 29.04.1996, Kozienice, PL (Rebis 1998, Not.
Ornithol. 38: 50) cat. 1 / 04.05.1996, Istein, DE (T. Stalling in Grosch 2000) cat. 2 / 12.05.1996, April 1997,
Mariembourg, BE (Lambert 1997) cat. 2 / June 1996, Dessau, DE (Grosch 2000) cat. 3 / 07.03.1997, Rome, IT
(Bulgarini & Fraticelli 1998) cat. 3 / 1997–2000, Schlat, DE (Nowak 1999, Naturkdl. Mitt. Lks. Göppingen 18: 9–15)
cat. 6 / 25.04.1998, Desues, FR (M. Giroud in Droz 2011) cat. 3 / July 1998, Hemmental, CH (H-P. Bieri, M. Roost)
cat. 2 / 30.12.1998, Agadir, MA (Robel & Nicolai 2009) cat. 3 / 02.05.2000, Jyväskylä, FI (Lindholm 2001) cat. 3 / 2000–
02, Ruhestein, DE (Förschler 2005, Vogelwarte 43: 195–198) cat. 2 / 06.06.2000, Monte Meta, IT (L. Juillerat in Droz
2011) cat. 3 / 03.10.2000, Fano, DK (Steijn 2005) cat. 1 / 23.04.2001, Porvoo, FI (Lindholm 2001) cat. 1 / 2001, Tampere,
FI (Lindholm 2001) cat. 2 / 28.04.2002, Erstavik, SE (Steijn 2005) cat. 1 / 05.05.2002, Littau, CH (W. Burri, cat. 3 / 23.03.2003, Sursee, CH (S. Birrer in Droz 2011) cat. 2 / 26.05.2003, Steibach, DE (Zedler
2004, Falke 51: 324–325) cat. 2 / 17.03.2004, Dresden, DE (Töpfer 2005, Mitt. Ver Säch. Orn. 9: 74–75) cat. 3 /
13.04.2004, Groote Peel, NL (van Dongen, Haas & de Rouw 2004, Dutch Birding 26: 272–281) cat. 2 / 2004 Subigerberg,
CH (T. Schwaller, cat. 6 / 29.01.2005, Firenze, IT (D. Occhiato, cat.
6 / 24.03.2005, Cabrera NP, Baleares, ES (Perez-Garcia & Sallent 2011) cat. 1 / 01.04.2005, 30.04.06, 18.05.07,
Chamoson, CH (L. Maumary in Droz 2001) cat. 2 / 22.04.2005, Ospeldijk, NL (Steijn 2005) cat. 1 / 30.04.2005,
19.04.06, 08.04.07, Hausen, im Killertal, DE (B. Nicolai, V. Keinath in litt.) cat. 2 / 06.10.2005, Pisa, IT (D. Occhiato, cat. 2 / 27.11.2005, ES (J. M. Puig, cat. 6 / 2005,
23.03.06, Saint-Laurent-de-la-Prée, FR (J. Gonin, N. Gendre, cat. 1 / 21.05.2006, Elstal, DE (Dürr
2007, Otis 15: 33–36) cat. 1 / 31.05.2006, Schöffengrund-Niederquembach, DE (Lay 2017, Vogelkund. Hefte Edertal
43: 63–68) cat. 3 / 13.06.2006, Grembergen, BE (Driessens 2006, Dutch Birding 28: 255–264) cat. 2 / 12.09.2006, Col
de Jaman, CH (Droz 2011) cat. 1 / February 2007, Cadiz, ES (Tag, cat. 5 / 02.04.2007, Lampedusa,
IT (A. Corso, cat. 1 / 09.04.2007, Rüeggisberg, CH ( cat. 4 / 27.04.2007, BE
(G. Vermeersch, cat. 2 / 01.05.2007, Romrod, DE (Stübing, Heckmann & Roland 2013, Vogel &
Umwelt 20: 15–78) cat. 3 / 27.05.2007, Dillenburg-Erbach, DE (Stübing, Heckmann & Roland 2013, Vogel & Umwelt
20: 15–78) cat. 3 / 04.04.2008, Leusden, NL (T. van de Kamp, cat. 2 / 10.04.2008, Villeneuve-
lès-Maguelone, FR (P-A. Crochet, cat. 2 / 24.04.2008, Hindelbank, CH ( cat. 4 /
April 2008, Gothenburg, SE (Petersson et al. 2014) cat. 1 / 03.05.2008, Tuniberg, DE (J. Wiegand in Droz 2011) cat. 3
/ 17.09.2008, Gurnigel, CH (W. & P. Oberhänsli, M. Roost, cat. 5 / 08.10.2008, Cap Ferret, FR
(L. Barbaro, cat. 3 / 27.10.2008, Aguelmouss, MA (Demey 2009) cat. 2 / 05.04.2009, 2010,
Dobro, ES (M. Alsonso, cat. 2 / April 2009, LU ( cat. 4 /
16.06.2009, 2010, Träullit, Österbymo, SE (M. Thorin,, Petersson et al. 2014) cat. 1 / 2009–10,
Dachslern, CH (R. Wiedmer, F. Ducry, cat. 2 / 12.02.2010, Lincoln Cathedral, Lincolnshire, GB
(M. Garner) cat. 6 / 31.03.2010, Landsende Romo, DK (I. Jensen, cat. 2 / 14.04.2010, Leusden, NL
(R. Wilschut, cat. 2 / 27.07.2010, Fusio, CH (S. Mombelli, cat. 2
/ 2010–2013, Grobau, DE (Lang in prep.) cat. 2 / 19.03.2011, Spurn, Yorkshire, GB (M. Garner) cat. 6 / 06.04.2011,
Groote Peel, NL (M. van der Velde, cat. 2 / 25.04.2011, Neustadt am Rübenberge, DE (Lehmhus
& Rinas 2018, Aves Braunschweig 9: 19–30) cat. 2 / 01.05.2011, Hov, NO ( cat. 4 /
08.05.2011, 14.04.2012, Brockenplateau, DE (Hellmann 2015, Ornithol. Jber. Mus. Heineanum 33: 1–96) cat. 2 /
24.05.2011, Rodersdorf, CH (A. Capol, cat. 2 / 2011–12, Falun, SE (P. Adenäs in Petersson et al.
2014) cat. 3 / 31.03.2012, Wyhlen, DE (D. Kratzer, cat. 2 / 03.04.2012, Burghalde u. Herrenwäldle,
DE (J. Gommel, cat. 3 / 15.04.2012, Schweina, DE (D. Volkmar, cat. 3 / 27.04.2012,
Hilchenbach, DE (Frede 2012, Charadrius 48: 84–86) cat. 1 / 30.04.2012, Västra Tunhem, SE (G. Darefelt, cat. 2 / 10.05.2012, Lindberg Rindelloch, DE (T. Sacher, cat.
2 / 13.05.2012, Ijmuiden, NL (H. de Nobel, cat. 2 / 28.05.2012, Picon, FR (S. Tillo, www.faune- cat. 2 / May 2012, Joensuu, FI (Normaja 2013, Linnut 48(2): 52) cat. 2 / 11.06.2012, Freising, DE
( cat. 4 / 29.09.2012, 20.09.13, Schollene, DE (M. Schönenberg, cat. 3 / 05.10.2012,
Rosswasen, DE ( cat. 4 / 12.10.2012, Lampedusa, IT (G. Papale in litt.) cat. 1 / 19.10.2012, Diekholzen,
DE (H. Verdaat, cat. 5 / 2012, Limhamn, SE (S. Cherrug in Petersson et al. 2014) cat. 3 /
27.03.2013, Gingen, DE (M. Nowak in litt.) cat. 5 / 22.04.2013, 29.04.14, 15.04.15, Wenslingen, CH (H. Hersberger,
N. Martinez, cat. 1 / April 2013, Bodensee, DE ( cat. 5 / 24.05.2013,
Næroset, NO (Simon Rixx, cat. 1 / 03.07.2013, 09.04.2014, Wehrheim, DE (Salzmann
& Soerensen 2014, Vögel 01/14: 82–83, cat. 2 / 07.07.2013, Tiefentaler Köpfe, DE

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210 209

Martinez et al.

( cat. 4 / 13.07.2013, Eifel, DE (H. Dolmans, cat. 2 / 13.10.2013, Skærbæk,
DK (M. Elley, cat. 6 / 2013–14, Llupia, FR (J. Piette, cat. 2 / 2013, Dortmund, DE
(Frede 2012, Charadrius 48: 84–86) cat. 3 / 20.03.2014, Heeslingen, DE (H. Postels, cat. 4 / 27.03.2014,
Görlitz-Nikilaivorstadt, DE ( cat. 4 / 22.04.2014, Mantena Hamar, NO (L. Kapelrud, cat. 2 / 27.04.2014, Meerle, BE ( cat. 4 / April 2014, Dnipro, UA
(Fesenko & Shybanov 2016) cat. 2 / 2014–2016, Fulda, DE (P. Hess, cat. 2 / 07.05.2014, Dortmund, DE
( cat. 4 / 13.05.2014, Heinsberg, DE (G. de Hoog, cat. 3 / 13.05.2014,
Usikapunki, FI (P. Alho, cat. 1 / 18.05.2014, Ruhestein, DE (M. Förschler, cat. 3
/ 20.05.2014, Braunau, AT (M. Mitterbacher, cat. 3 / 01.09.2014, Arcen en Velden, NL
(H. Crommentuyn, cat. 2 / 04.01.2015, Brunsbüttel, DE (K. Dallmann, cat. 5
/ 13.01.2015, Málaga, ES (A. Paterson, cat. 5 / 09.04.2015, les Fénis, CH (M. Muller, cat. 2 / 11.04.2015, Helgoland, DE (J. Dierschke, cat. 6 /
18.04.2015, Bad Laer, DE ( cat. 4 / 18.04.2015, Lammersdorf, DE (M. Lay, cat. 2 /
09.05.2015, Ayent, CH (A. Barras, cat. 2 / 13.05.2015, Hansdorf, DE ( cat. 4 /
23.05.2015, Ballern Merzig, DE ( cat. 4 / 30.05.2015, Sylt, DE (M. Kuschereitz, cat.
2 / 04.06.2015, Hambuchen, DE (Hinterkeuser & Schmied 2015, Berichtsheft der Arbeitsgem. Bergischer Ornithol. 65:
30–33) cat. 2 / 08.06.2015, Hohentauern, AT ( cat. 4 / 17.06.2015, Jokioinen, FI (P. Mäkelä, cat. 1 / 21.06.2015, Gent, BE (H. Blockx, cat. 1 / 18.07.2015,
Vorderweidenthal, DE (N. Roth, R. Klein, cat. 1 / 24.08.2015, Fromelennes, FR
( cat. 4 / 11.09.2015, Katzenstein, DE (E. Bezzel, cat. 3 / 09.04.2016,
Neubrandenburg, DE ( cat. 4 / 22.04.2016, Wroclaw, PL (Z. Marciniak, cat. 2 / 04.05.2016, Hohenkreuz, DE (J. Mayer, cat. 3 /
07.05.2016, Teich Junkershammer, DE ( cat. 4 / 18.05.2016, Wildschönau, AT ( cat.
4 / 26.05.2016, Vermosh, AL (Ernst 2017, Ornithol. Jber. Mus. Heineanum 34) cat. 1 / 03.07.2016, 09.04.2017, Rosenthal,
DE (M. Lay, cat. 1 / 22.07.2016, Langwies, CH (P. Knaus, cat. 3 / 21.09.2016,
Schlangenberg, DE ( cat. 4 / 03.10.2016, Haute Savoie, FR (A. Chappuis, cat. 6 /
08.10.2016, Vacquerie-et-Saint-Martin-de-Castries, FR (P. Gitenet, cat. 5 / 06.04.2017, Friedberg,
DE ( cat. 4 / 13.04.2017, Bordenau, DE (Lehmhus & Rinas 2018, Aves Braunschweig 9: 19–30) cat. 1
/ 19.04.2017, Aigen im Ennstal, AT ( cat. 4 / 28.04.2017, Gmina Lwówek, PL (Paweł Szyma ski, cat. 1 / 19.05.2017, Teufen, CH (K. Frueh, L. Fitze,,
cat. 1 / 30.05.2017, Wenslingen, CH (H. Hersberger, N. Martinez, T. Lüthi, cat. 1 /
31.05.2017, Köpfingen, DE (J. Honold, cat. 1 / June 2017, Cracow, PL (T. Stawarczyk in litt.) cat. 2
/ 20.09.2017, Nederheim Tongeren, BE (C. Richerzhagen, E. Colson, cat. 1 / 01.11.2017, San
Leonardo in Passiria, IT (H. Maier, cat. 6 / 16.11.2017, Parc Natural del Garraf, ES (N. Teufenbacher
in litt.) cat. 5.

Appendix 2.
Records of mixed pairings between Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros and Common Redstart
P. phoenicurus considered in the article.
Details of each record (separated by / ) are presented in the following sequence: year, location, country and refer-
ence. Country codes: AT – Austria, CH – Switzerland, DE – Germany, FI – Finland, FR – France, NO – Norway, SE
– Sweden.

c. 1929, FR (Heim de Balsac 1929, Bull. Musém national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris) 1: 304–306) / 1959, Sköde, SE
(Andersson 1963, Vår Fågelvärld 22: 290–291) / 1959–1960, Tirol, AT (Landmann 1987, Ökol. Der Vögel 9: 97–106)
/ 1960, Sköde, SE (Andersson 1963, Vår Fågelvärld 22: 290–291) / 1963, Aschersleben, DE (Böhm & Strohkorb
1964, Beitr. Vogelk. 10: 235–236) / c. 1963, SE (Andersson 1963, Vår Fågelvärld 22: 290–291) / 1980, Amiens, FR
(Robert & Toulon 1984, Aves 21: 105–108) / 1985, SE (Orhult 1986, Natur pa Dal 12: 6–7) / 1985, Halberstadt, DE
(B. Nicolai) / c. 1987, DE (Gaumnitz in Landmann 1987) / 1989, Muotas Muragl, CH (Ruppen & Ruppen 1990,
Ornithol. Beob. 87: 59) / 1994, Rüdlingen, CH (Hegelbach & Nabulon 1998, Ornithol. Beob. 95: 129–136) / 1995,
Boos an der Nahe, DE (Buchmann 2007, Fauna und Flora in Rheinland-Pfalz, Band 11, Heft 1) 1998–1999, Nettetal,
DE (Thomas 1999, Ornithologischer Jahresbericht für den Kreis Viersen. Nettetal.) / 1999, Schlat, DE (Nowak 2001,
Naturkdl. Mitt. Lks. Göppingen 20: 18) / 1999, Oensingen, CH (Grosch 2000) / 1999, Freiberg, DE (Grosch 2000) /
1999, Karlsruhe, DE (Grosch 2000) / 2000, Schlat, DE (Nowak 2001, Naturkdl. Mitt. Lks. Göppingen 20: 18) / 2005,
Schlat, DE (M. Nowak in litt.) / 2007, Tampere, FI (J. Lindfors, / 2007, Turku, FI (T. Lindroos, & / 2008, Dornach, CH (O. Hurt, / 2008, Chavannes,
CH (C. Plummer in Droz 2011) / 2011, Therwil, CH (N. Martinez, / 2011, Oslo, NO
( / 2013, Hamburg, DE (Team Sammelbericht NWR 2014, Charadrius 50: 127–216) / 2014, Maclas,
FR ( / 2015, Ziefen, CH (A. Fasolin, S. Hohl, N. Martinez, Y. Wennberg,

210 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 190 – 210

Red-winged Blackbird in
Orkney: new to Britain
Simon Davies
Abstract Following several transatlantic storms in April 2017, a female Red-
winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus was discovered on North Ronaldsay, Orkney,
on 29th April 2017, where it remained until 14th May. It developed a predictable
routine that enabled the many visiting observers to enjoy prolonged views. Since
imports of wild birds from North America into Britain and Europe ceased several
years earlier, there was little doubt that this was a wild bird, and it was added to
Category A of the British List.

pril 2017 on North Ronaldsay, whole bird, which was about 15 m away. It
Orkney, was not a pleasant month. was a chunky passerine with a dark crown,
After what seemed to be weeks of broad and flaring supercilium that was yel-
endless strong winds, swinging between west lowish at the front, dark eye-stripe, yellowish
and north and bringing snow and hail most chin patch and dark, bold streaks down the
days, we were overjoyed when the wind breast. Two white wing-bars were obvious, as
finally turned to the east. After a day of slack were the chestnut scapulars and mantle.
weather, the wind picked up again on 29th Despite being just brown and streaky, it was a
April, becoming a cold, gale-force 6–7, but at stunning bird with an intricately marked
least it was still from the east! I had enjoyed a plumage, and so much going on within the
pretty decent morning while carrying out the ‘brown and streaky’ bracket!
northern census route, the highlights being I said to myself ‘What the hell is that?’ (or
some wildfowl moving offshore, a few Snow words to that effect) and looked more closely
Buntings Plectrophenax nivalis in full at it, using binoculars and then camera, while
breeding plumage, a Black Redstart trying to work it out in my head. My jumbled
Phoenicurus ochruros and a Merlin Falco thoughts ran something like: ‘look at that
columbarius, which caught a Common bill… looks like an American oriole… but it’s
Starling Sturnus vulgaris right in front of me. not one of those… but it must be
As I was walking past the house at Garso with American… what else is like that?… some
my mind half on what we had to do in the kind of blackbird/grackle thing… no,
afternoon to prepare the Bird Observatory grackles are bigger… must be a blackbird…
for the arrival of a tour group the next day, which ones have I seen… Red-winged in
I was distracted by a strange little ‘chup’ call. I Texas… no others… but there are others…
spun round in time to see a Starling-sized females are dark and streaky like that…
bird land on top of some gas bottles outside GOD… it might actually be a Red-winged
the house. Blackbird [Agelaius phoeniceus]….’. After a
I could just see the bird’s head poking out: few minutes it flew up onto the wires, where
it showed a broad supercilium, yellowish it perched for a minute or so before dropping
throat, streaked chest and pointed bill with down into a nearby iris bed. It had a particu-
straight upper and lower mandibles creating larly distinctive floppy flight, and showed a
a thin cone-like shape – unlike the bill of fan-shaped tail which also flopped around.
most European birds. My brain stuttered for At this point I found some shelter from
a second as I thought to myself ‘Oh, Redwing the wind and began phoning the Obs volun-
[Turdus iliacus]… no, yes, NO!’ I took a few teers who were working other parts of the
steps to my right and could now see the island: ‘Odd bird at Garso, it’s American and

© British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 211– 216 211


mega, not 100% certain what it is but best Kevin Woodbridge and Alison Duncan,
guess is Red-winged Blackbird.’ With the bird the observatory wardens, were off island for
now out of view, I had a bit of time to reflect the day (as they always seem to be when rare
on what I had just seen and cast my mind birds are found!), but they returned on the
back to Texas a couple of years earlier, when last scheduled flight and soon had great views
big, noisy flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds as the bird followed the same pattern of
dominated the bird tables and marshes I heading to the gas bottles after feeding in the
visited – it all seemed to fit! I tramped iris bed. The phones were red hot for the rest
around for ten minutes and failed to refind it of the evening with people booking in,
before Harris Brooker, Sam Perfect and making plans and congratulating us while we
Larissa Simulik arrived. After what seemed just sat back and relaxed with a beer or two!
like ages, but was probably only another 15 The first planes arrived at 09.30 hrs the
minutes, the bird flew up from the irises and next morning, and thankfully the bird stuck
made a beeline back to the gas bottles, where to its routine so that everyone had great
we all had excellent views. Larissa, being from views. Many people were initially sceptical
Canada and familiar with most North about our casual advice: ‘Just stand here, it’ll
American icterids, was probably best-placed come back and land on those gas bottles’ –
to help with the identification, and tenta- but return it did, time after time. It seemed a
tively agreed with my first thoughts, as did slightly odd behaviour pattern, maybe the
Pete Donnelly, who arrived shortly after- colour or the cold metal of the canisters
wards. I then tweeted back-of-the-camera reminded the bird of the ship it came across
pictures out into the world – and that was on?! The following two weeks passed by in a
that! whirlwind with endless trips to the site, the
Landrover packed
full of long-dis-
tance twitchers; and
endless phone calls,
which surprisingly
included a whole
host of reporters
for newspapers,
radio stations and
TV programmes, as
seemingly everyone
had picked up on
the story.
Towards the end
of its prolonged
stay on the island,
the bird’s behaviour
subtly changed as it
became less tied to
the gas cannisters.
It flew onto the
overhead wires
more frequently
and began to fly-
Simon Davies

catch regularly,
showing extremely
well on occasion –
this behaviour
120. Female Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus, North Ronaldsay, could perhaps be
Orkney, May 2017. attributed to the

212 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 211– 216

Red-winged Blackbird in Orkney: new to Britain

Simon Davies
121. Female Red-winged Blackbird, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, May 2017.

advancing spring, and an increased avail- crown-stripes were a dark, chocolate brown,
ability of flying insects, as well as the fast- either side of a poorly defined, whitish
growing irises becoming taller, thicker and median crown-stripe. There was an obvious
harder to move around in. It was also seen to brown eye-stripe behind a small, dark eye
carry out high and wide flights around the and paler brown lores; the cheek patch was
area – perhaps it was preparing to move on? light brown and weakly framed from behind
And so it proved as it was last seen on 14th (an extension of the eye-stripe); and the
May. short brown moustachial stripe, pale sub-
moustachial stripe and dark brown lateral
Description throat stripe were all well defined.
Size and structure
When observed by itself, the Red-winged Underparts
Blackbird seemed to be just smaller than a The underparts were obviously and broadly
Starling with some similar mannerisms. This streaked on a whitish background, the streaks
size difference was more pronounced when it (although they could be described as spots
was perched next to a Starling on the wires. running vertically downwards as opposed to
actual streaks) were heavier just below the
Head throat and on the chest, merging together in
The head was intricately patterned and all the this area so that the whitish ground colour
features you see in standard bird topography was not so clear. The spots/streaks were larger
diagrams were well marked and obvious. It and more prominent on the flanks and nar-
had a broad white supercilium, which flared rower in the centre and it often showed some
widely towards the back of the head, with the large dark patches in the centre of the belly,
part in front of the eye a prominent burnt- which could possibly have been wet feath-
yellow colour; this yellow extended to the ering caused by it feeding on the ground in
front part of the submoustachial stripe and among the irises. The undertail-coverts were
the chin (where it formed a little yellow ‘soul dark brown, narrowly but neatly edged
patch’). Above the supercilium the lateral whitish.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 211– 216 213


Upperparts faithful to one area c. 40 m east of the road.

The upperparts were richly coloured, with When disturbed it showed a remarkable
well-defined areas, especially when viewed in attachment to the stacked red gas bottles by
bright conditions. The dark brown mantle Garso house, to which it would often fly to
feathers had broad, rich chestnut edges cre- directly, landing in full view. This behaviour
ating a bright square patch on the back; also changed slightly when the twitch was at its
obvious were two whitish mantle stripes. biggest, as it often flew up to the wires above
There was a well-defined cut-off with the the iris beds before either dropping back
lower back, the feathers having pale grey down into the irises or then flying over to the
edges, creating a broad grey band across the gas bottles or the shed roof. On calm, sunny
back; these edges gradually became thinner, days it sometimes changed its feeding routine
better defined and browner further down to and began flycatching from the wires, stone
the rump (hence appearing blacker). The tail dykes, fences or the irises themselves, and
was largely black. The most obvious feature showing well, sometimes coming close to
on the closed wing was the bright, white- observers – just like Red-winged Blackbirds
tipped median and greater coverts, creating a do back in the USA, where they seem fearless,
blackish wing patch bordered with white. especially when breeding and at bird feeders.
The remiges and tertials were blackish, The bird was often seen in flight between
narrowly but neatly edged light brown. its favoured spots, and it had a distinctive
flying style. It seemed very floppy in flight,
Bare parts almost appearing to roll its shoulders as it
The bill was distinctive in that both upper flapped, with the floppiness accentuated by
and lower mandibles were straight-edged, the characteristic fan-shaped tail, which also
creating a medium-length, very pointed and appeared to rock from side to side as it flew –
sharp-looking bill, which was largely grey. this brought back memories of birds I’d seen
in big flocks in Texas.
The bird quickly settled into a predictable Age
routine of feeding unseen in the iris beds sur- With guidance from Canadian ringers, we
rounding Garso, although it was particularly aged it as a first-winter (2CY) bird, based on
Simon Davies

122. Female Red-winged Blackbird, North Ronaldsay, Orkney, May 2017.

214 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 211– 216

Red-winged Blackbird in Orkney: new to Britain

the colour of the face/cheeks and throat. Distribution and movements

They advised that an adult female should The Red-winged Blackbird breeds in a variety
show a more peachy or salmon-coloured of wetland and upland habitats throughout
wash to its face/cheeks and down to its much of North America. The northern limit
throat, with the burnt-yellow coloration of its range extends from central and south-
much reduced. Furthermore, an adult female east Alaska, USA, east through Canada
should show more reddish hues to the lesser including southern Yukon, central and
and median coverts – often very red, imi- southern Mackenzie, central Manitoba,
tating the red ‘shoulders’ of a male. They hes- northern Ontario, south-central Quebec and
itated against ageing it on tail shape, moult the Codroy Valley in Newfoundland. To the
limit or the bright chestnut fringes on the south it is widespread throughout the USA to
mantle. southern California, the Gulf Coast and
Florida, the Caribbean region, Mexico and
Provenance central America south to the Tempisque and
Although there were no questions about the lower Bebedero basins of Costa Rica
identification, our thoughts inevitably (Yasukawa & Searcy 1995).
turned to the likely provenance of the bird, Although the Red-winged Blackbird is not
and the dreaded word ‘escape’ naturally crept a classic long-distance migrant in North
into our conversations. The species was America, most birds breeding in Canada and
imported into Britain in some numbers the northern states in the USA do migrate
during the nineteenth centur y, and south in winter. Small numbers may,
inevitably some did manage to escape or however, remain in southern Nova Scotia,
were deliberately released, producing a southeast Quebec and Ontario, and coastal
number of records around that time (e.g. Maine to Vermont, southeast Alaska and
Witherby et al. 1943). Evans (1994) listed 18 British Colombia. Farther south in the USA,
birds from 12 counties throughout Britain birds are non-migratory, though they do
between 1824 and 1885 which he considered form large flocks with other icterids and
likely to relate to escaped captive birds. Starlings and disperse widely in search of
These included four in March, three in May, food and safe roosting sites. On average, indi-
five in June and another two in ‘spring’. The viduals from the Great Lakes region move c.
remaining records involved singles in July– 1,200 km, from the lower mid-west c. 1,000
August, December, ‘autumn’ and one was km, from New England c. 800 km and from
undated. the mid-Atlantic states c. 600 km (Dolbeer
In addition, a bird was captured at Nash 1982). These northern birds spend the winter
Lig hthouse, in what is now East throughout the species’ breeding range in the
Glamorgan, dur ing the nig ht of 27th
USA, and in Baja California and the northern
October 1866 (D’Urban et al. 1892). Evans
Pacific slope in Mexico, and possibly else-
(1994) considered that this was possibly a
where within the species’ breeding range.
genuine vagrant but Witherby et al. (1943)
Occasional birds also winter in Bermuda
did not refer to it, and it was not admitted
(Amos 1991).
to the British List. There are no recent
On a personal note, this bird brought back
records from Br itain or elsewhere in
great memories of Fair Isle in May 2009,
Europe, where the importation of wild
when a couple of islanders stopped me
birds from North America and elsewhere
outside their home with news of a strange
has been illegal for many years.
bird in their garden; a quick check revealed a
Prior to the discovery of this bird, a
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater strut-
weather system sweeping across the North
ting round their garden at Upper
Atlantic had brought a Hermit Thrush
Catharus guttatus to Shetland the previous
week, and the obvious potential for ship- References
assistance left no doubts in our minds. This
Amos, E. J. R. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Bermuda.
was a genuine vagrant in our eyes (although Warwick, Bermuda.
we were of course slightly biased!). Dolbeer, R. A. 1982. Migration patterns for age and sex

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 211– 216 215


classes of blackbirds and starlings. J. Field Ornithol. Witherby, H. F., Jourdain, F. C. R., Ticehurst, N. F., &
53: 28–46. Tucker, B. W. 1943. The Handbook of British Birds.
D’Urban, W. S. M., Mathew, M. A., & Keulemans, J. G. Vol. 1. Witherby, London.
1892. The Birds of Devon. R. H. Porter, London. Yasukawa, K., & Searcy, W. A. 1995. Red-winged
Evans, L. G. R. 1994. Rare Birds in Britain, 1800–1990. Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), version 2.0. In:
Privately published. Poole, A. F., & Gill, F. B. (eds.). The Birds of North
Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American America. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY.
Birds. Part I: Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek
Press, Bolinas, CA.

Simon Davies, North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory, Twingness, North Ronaldsay,

Orkney KW17 2BE; e-mail

Editorial comment Paul French, Chairman of BBRC, commented: ‘While possibly on the
radar of the most optimistic, this Red-winged Blackbird was certainly one of the major sur-
prises of recent springs. It is one of those unusual species where the female may actually be
more attractive and distinctive than the male. While there are several blackish icterids in the
genus Agelaius (of which only Red-winged Blackbird is a possible natural vagrant, although the
others could theoretically occur as escapees or with ship assistance), only female Red-winged
Blackbirds sport the combination of pale base colour to the underparts with extensive streaking,
striking head pattern, rufous upperparts and prominent pale mantle lines that may actually
make it the ultimate “streaky brown job”.
‘Identifying this individual to race is a different matter, however. Pyle (1997) stated that
“Except in the coastal western subspecies group, females are similar in plumage (and likely
inseparable), showing substantial intrasubspecific variation.” However, there was nothing about
this bird’s plumage to point away from the nominate eastern subspecies, and this would be the
most expected in a vagrancy context, being found over most of eastern North America. It was a
straightforward assessment and acceptance process for BBRC, as the description and
photographs left no room for error.’
Andrew Harrop, Chairman of BOURC, commented: ‘As noted in Ibis 160: 936–942, at least
17 historical records of Red-winged Blackbird between 1824 and 1885, at a time when American
passerines were regularly imported into Britain, were considered likely to involve either escapes
or frauds. The pattern of historical records of the Icteridae is very different from that of modern
records (see Brit. Birds 56: 204–217).
‘In contrast to those historical records, the 2017 Orkney bird occurred after imports had
ceased, at a time when the species was no longer known in captivity in Europe. Whether or not
its attachment to gas canisters was a trait developed onboard ship is a matter for speculation,
and in any event ship-assisted vagrancy is not a bar to acceptance so long as the species is
considered capable of arriving without (further) assistance (Ibis 147: 246–250).
‘Although the subspecies was undetermined, BOURC considered that the North Ronaldsay
bird was consistent with one of the eastern populations, which migrate nearly 1,200 km
between breeding and winter ranges; females typically migrate further than males (HBW), so
might be more likely to occur as vagrants. Accordingly, the record was accepted following a
single circulation.’

216 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 211– 216

Seabird recovery on Lundy
population change in Manx
Shearwaters and other seabirds in
response to the eradication of rats
Helen Booker, David Price, Peter Slader,
Tim Frayling, Tom Williams and Mark Bolton
Abstract The island of Lundy, in Devon, once supported large numbers of
breeding seabirds, but declines during the twentieth century left the island with
only remnants of its former colonies. One major concern during this time was the
impact of rat predation on eggs and chicks, especially of burrow-nesting Manx
Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus and Puffins Fratercula arctica. A major project to
eradicate rats from Lundy was completed in the spring of 2004. This paper
examines the results of the latest Manx Shearwater survey and how the species has
responded since rats were eradicated, and sets this into the context of how the
overall status of seabirds on Lundy has changed over the last 15 years.
Introduction clear indication of numbers with hugely vari-
Lundy, a 430-ha island in the Bristol Channel, able estimates ranging from the low hundreds
once supported 3,500 pairs of Puffins to several thousand (Price & Booker 2000).
Fratercula arctica, 19,000 pairs of Common Manx Shearwaters are of particular impor-
Guillemots Uria aalge and 10,500 pairs of tance as Britain holds an estimated 68–93% of
Razorbills Alca torda, contributing to a total the global breeding population, and over 90%
seabird assemblage in 1939 of c. 40,000 pairs of the British population is confined to Rum
(c. 80,000 birds; Perry 1940). Over the subse- and the Pembrokeshire islands (Mitchell et al.
quent decades of the twentieth century, 2004). As a burrow-nesting species, the Manx
seabird numbers on the island fell drastically Shearwater occupies offshore islands,
and by the time of the national census in attending the colony at night to avoid avian
2000, the total seabird assemblage was just predators, such as Great Black-backed Gulls
7,351 birds (Mitchell et al. 2004). By then, all Larus marinus (Brooke 1990). On islands with
species were in decline, with 2,348 populations of rats (usually introduced unin-
Guillemots, 950 Razorbills and just 13 Puffins tentionally in previous centuries through ship-
remaining. Contributing to this total was the wreck, maritime trading, or movements of
small population of Manx Shearwaters foodstuffs and livestock) or other mammalian
Puffinus puffinus, estimated at 166 (later predators, populations of burrow-nesting
adjusted to 297) breeding pairs in the island’s seabirds are often suppressed or absent
first comprehensive survey, in 2001. The through predation of their eggs and chicks
number of breeding Manx Shearwaters was (Atkinson 1978; Micol & Jouventin 2002).
considered to be far short of the island’s Both Brown Rats Rattus norvegicus and
potential given its size and the amount of Black Rats R. rattus were found on Lundy
available nesting habitat (Price & Booker and concerns were raised throughout the
2002; Booker & Price 2010). Previous assess- twentieth century over their impact on the
ments of the population were often based on island’s seabirds (e.g. Perry 1940, Studdy
night-time observations, but provided no 1948, Taylor 1986, 1990). The low numbers

© British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230 217

Booker et al.
Jonathan Evans

123. Lundy from the air, looking northeast, in July 2009.

recorded in the 2001 Manx Shearwater cash cost of £180/ha, plus in-kind contribu-
survey, compared with the vast populations tions from partners for project set-up, trans-
on the relatively close and rat-free port, accommodation and management
Pembrokeshire islands of Skomer and (Lock 2006). Recovery of the island’s Manx
Skokholm, added further weight to this Shearwaters was the primary focus of the rat
concern. Population size on Lundy was eradication. It seemed unlikely at the time
unlikely to be limited by food availability, that Puffins, having declined to such a low
since tracking has shown that shearwaters level, would recover rapidly.
breeding on Lundy have similar access to for- Seabird monitoring on Lundy up to 2008
aging areas in the Irish Sea used by birds showed an initially encouraging response to
breeding on Skomer, in addition to local for- the island’s rat-free status (Brown et al.
aging areas in the Celtic Sea (Dean et al. 2011), but five years is a relatively short time
2015). The most likely explanation for the over which to assess changes in seabird
low numbers of Manx Shearwaters on Lundy breeding populations. Another ten years of
was the presence of rats. data are now available, and this paper pre-
A feasibility study into the eradication of sents the results. In particular, we report on
rats (Bell 2001) was followed by the establish- the latest survey of breeding Manx
ment of the Lundy Seabird Recovery Project, Shearwaters on Lundy, in 2017 and 2018, and
a partnership between English Nature (now compare the results with previous surveys in
Natural England), the RSPB, the National 2001, 2008 and 2013.
Trust and the Landmark Trust. The project
appointed expert contractors (Wildlife Methods
Management International Ltd) supported Manx Shearwater survey coverage
by RSPB and National Trust volunteers, and Survey coverage in 2017 and 2018 is shown in
successfully eradicated rats from the island fig. 1 and is very similar to that of previous
over the winters of 2002/03 and 2003/04. surveys (Price & Booker 2002; Booker & Price
Following further monitoring and a ‘final 2010, 2014). We aimed to survey all suitable
check’ in 2006, the island was declared rat- and accessible areas of the island, with areas
free (Appleton et al. 2006). The project had a of most favourable habitat given priority. The

218 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Seabird recovery on Lundy

highest-priority areas
(accessible sites with
high burrow densities)
have been covered in
all years. Weather and
time constraints have
accounted for the vari-
ability in coverage of the
lower-priority sites,
where habitat is less
suitable and burrow
density is low (see table
Survey methods have
remained as similar as
possible but for health
and safety reasons the
strip of habitat within
5 m of the cliff edge has
been excluded since
2013. An adjustment in
the number of Appar-
ently Occupied Burrows
(AOB) has subsequently
been made, based on
the proportion of birds
that occupied this 5-m
zone on the last occa-
sion it was surveyed
(2008). In all surveys,
cliffs and unstable rock
falls were excluded and
the island plateau was
surveyed selectively.

Timing of surveys
Surveys have been
timed to coincide with
the middle of the shear-
waters’ incubation
period. Incubation
starts in early May and
lasts for around 51 days
Fig. 1. Areas surveyed for Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus on Lundy
(Brooke 1990) and in 2017 and 2018.
accordingly all surveys
were conducted between late May and the entrance to all potential burrows for up to 15
first week of June. seconds. Surveyors waited for up to 20
seconds for a response from an incubating
Playback methods adult. Each surveyor recorded the number of
Surveys have used a repeatable playback burrows checked and the number of burrows
method, employing the same recording of from which a response was obtained, all of
calls of male and female (duetting) Manx which were collated at the end of each tran-
Shearwaters, played during the daytime at the sect line. The approximate locations of

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230 219

Booker et al.

Table 1. Manx Shearwater surveys on Lundy: coverage by section in all surveys since 2001.

Section Priority Coverage

A High Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years.
B High Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years.
C High Suitable areas surveyed in all years. A small area added from 2013.
Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years. A small area added
D High
from 2013 (site of a former gull colony).
Received little coverage. Some areas are precipitous; most accessible areas have
E Low
thin soil and few burrows. Small sample areas surveyed in each year.
F High Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years.
Made up of small areas of habitat between large rock buttresses. Covered where
G1 Medium possible in all years; one area excluded in 2013 owing to time constraints
(but no birds recorded there in previous surveys).
G2 High Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years.
Puffin slope covered in all surveys. An additional area of habitat was surveyed
H High
in the west of this section from 2013. There is a further area yet to be surveyed.
I High Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years.
Sample surveyed in 2001 and 2008 due to extensive nature of the slopes;
J Low
comprehensively surveyed in 2018. Generally thin soil, few burrows, but
K1 Low patches of suitable habitat.
K2 High Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in all survey years.
L1 Medium Suitable areas surveyed comprehensively in 2001, 2008 and 2018.
L2 Low Much unsuitable habitat. Some accessible areas covered in
L3 Low 2001 and 2008, with areas added in 2018
L4 Low following rhododendron clearance.
Rat Island surveyed in 2008 only; no burrows found. Rest of section surveyed
L5 Low
in 2008 and 2013 and partially in 2017 (few burrows in excluded area).

burrows from which responses were obtained lation in a single year, fieldwork could not be
were sketched on a map. Visual signs of occu- completed in 2017 owing to poor weather in
pancy, such as droppings or feathers, which early June. In 2018, with good weather condi-
have been shown to be unreliable indicators tions and a large team, we were able to survey
of burrow occupancy (Perkins et al. 2017), all areas we had missed and repeat a sample of
were not recorded. areas surveyed in 2017 to assess any differ-
Lundy’s perimeter of steep slopes was ences. In addition, we were able to survey
divided into subsections, with each further parts of the island not covered since 2008 and
divided into manageable survey areas based also to check completely new areas, previously
on topographic features, to enable systematic overgrown with dense Rhododendron pon-
survey using transect lines. Surveyors covered ticum and therefore unsuitable for occupation
all accessible areas in each section by con- by Manx Shearwaters. Rhododendron on
touring the slopes 5 m apart and checking Lundy is subject to an eradication programme
every burrow, including holes under boul- (Day et al. 2010), which has opened up new
ders. In other places, such as steep, narrow potential nesting habitat for the shearwaters.
gaps between rock buttresses, the use of ver-
tical transects was more effective. Transects Playback equipment
were followed by eye, though marker canes In 2001 and 2008, all areas were surveyed
were used where necessary to help identify using the same type of cassette tape recorder.
the right course. Sprigs of bracken placed in In 2013 and 2017/18, other electronic devices
burrow entrances as they were checked pre- were introduced and formed a proportion of
vented double-checking of burrows. the survey equipment. In 2017 the use of
Although the aim was to survey the popu- certain digital devices (in particular MP3

220 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Seabird recovery on Lundy

Helen Booker
124. Surveying Manx Shearwater burrows along the east coast of Lundy, June 2018.

players with built-in speakers from Hunter using the du Feu mark-recapture method (du
Electronics, specifically marketed for play- Feu et al. 1983; Bolton et al. 2010). For each
back of bird calls) posed problems with day, response rate was calculated as the
sound reproduction quality. This appeared to number of burrows from which responses
result in poor levels of response from incu- were elicited, divided by the estimate of the
bating birds. Usage of these particular devices number of occupied burrows in that year.
was discontinued early in the survey, but the Correction factors for 2017 and 2018 were
issue was investigated further after the field- derived from the median of the reciprocals of
work was completed. (Box 1 describes the the daily response rates for each year. The
approach and results from this investigation.) 95% confidence limits (CLs) of the correction
In 2018 we tested the MP3 players prior to factors were estimated by bootstrapping (with
use to ensure all the devices were up to the replacement) 9,999 samples.
standard required and used a combination of
these and the traditional cassette players. Population estimate
The number of occupied burrows within the
Correction for non-response to areas surveyed in 2017 and 2018 was esti-
playback mated from the number of burrows from
Incubating Manx Shearwaters do not always which a response was elicited, multiplied by
respond to playback. In order to account for the correction factor for the respective year.
non-response from occupied burrows, we This gave an estimate of the actual number of
estimated, separately for 2017 and 2018, the occupied burrows in the areas surveyed. This
daily response rate. We conducted playback was then increased by 6% to include the esti-
each day that weather conditions were suit- mated proportion of occupied burrows in
able (avoiding heavy rain and strong winds) the 5-m strip adjacent to the cliff edge that
to a sample of 110 marked burrows within a had been excluded for safety reasons. Since it
calibration plot. On each day of calibration was not possible to survey the whole island in
playback, response or lack of response was a single year, the whole-island estimate was
noted for each burrow. Since the occupancy obtained by combining the estimates for
status of each burrow was not known, we esti- non-overlapping areas from 2017 and 2018.
mated the total number of occupied burrows For the area that was surveyed in both years,
in both 2017 and 2018 within the sample the data collected in 2018 were used (see

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230 221

Booker et al.

results). The confidence limits of the whole- both 2017 and 2018, results from 2018 were
island population estimate were derived from used. This produced a combined total for
9,999 randomly paired bootstrapped samples 2017–18 of 2,370 responses from 13,624
of the 2017 and 2018 components. burrows checked (810 responses from 2017
and 1,560 responses from 2018).
Results The distribution of responses is shown in
Calibration for non-response to fig. 3, illustrating all the 2018 results and the
playback results from 2017 for areas not covered in
Calibration trials were conducted on ten days 2018. These are presented alongside the
in 2017 and seven days in 2018. A small number of responses in previous surveys.
number of burrows for which response rates The maps show an expansion of Manx
were ambiguous (e.g. due to multiple nests in Shearwater subcolonies since 2001 and the
close proximity) were censored, resulting in a establishment of newly occupied sites across
sample of 102 burrows in 2017 and 105 in the island, in particular on the east and
2018. The mean response rates were 39.6% northwest coasts of the island.
in 2017 and 50.6% in 2018, and the mean
correction factors were 2.558 (95% CLs Breeding population estimate
2.375–2.739) for 2017 and 2.000 (95% CLs Applying the correction factors to the
1.846–2.176) for 2018. number of responses obtained from non-
overlapping areas for each year gives a figure
Playback survey of 2,072 AOB in 2017 and 3,120 AOB in
In 2017, between 27th May and 7th June, 2018. Adding the 6% uplift to each year
10,527 burrows were surveyed by playback, increases the estimate to 2,197 in 2017 and
and responses were obtained from 1,394. In 3,307 in 2018, giving an all-island estimate of
2018, between 2nd and 9th June, 6,822 5,504 breeding pairs (95% confidence limits:
burrows were surveyed, and responses 5,203–5,833 pairs).
obtained from 1,560. It was therefore clear Fig. 2 illustrates the change in Lundy’s
that the proportion of burrows checked from Manx Shearwater population between 2001
which a response was heard was considerably and 2018. Whilst there have been some
higher in 2018 than in 2017 (22.9% and minor variations in survey coverage, there is
13.2% respectively). For areas surveyed in no doubt about the general trend: a major
increase in the breeding
population since 2001.

5504 Playback quality issues

5,000 in 2017
Lundy As described above, diffi-
rat-free culties were encountered
4,000 in spring
during the 2017 fieldwork
no. breeding pairs

3451 season as a result of
3,000 adverse weather conditions
combined with the scale of
coverage required and the
limited time available.
1081 These factors were recog-
1,000 nised as potential risks at
297 the outset. However, prob-
lems with the playback
2001 2008 2013 2017–18 process were not antici-
pated. After the 2017 field-
Fig. 2. Breeding Manx Shearwaters on Lundy: estimated population
trend 2001–18, based upon results from four surveys. Rat eradication work we analysed the
was undertaken between autumn 2002 and spring 2004. Error bars pattern of playback
show 95% confidence limits. responses from a sample of

222 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Seabird recovery on Lundy

different devices; this highlighted a low from some of the other devices. We then
number of responses per burrow checked analysed the playback sound quality from
from the Hunter Electronics MP3 player, but different devices and the findings are
also indicated wide variability in responses described in Box 1.

Fig. 3. Distribution of playback responses by Manx Shearwaters in all surveys on Lundy since 2001.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230 223

Booker et al.

Assessment of sound reproduction of different playback devices. BOX 1

To assess the sound quality of a selection of devices used in the Lundy Manx Shearwater survey
in 2017, each was loaded with an identical recording of Manx Shearwater calls. The audio
output of each device was then recorded using a Rode NT1A studio microphone connected to
a Sound Devices MixPre-3 recorder. The microphone was placed approximately 50 cm directly
above the speaker on each device. An identical section of each recording was then isolated and
normalised to -3dBFS. The frequency analysis tool in Adobe Audition CC was then used to
generate a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) profile of the file.
original MP3 file Sony cassette player TCS-580V
0 0
-10 Fig. 4.1 -10 Fig. 4.2
-20 -20
amplitude (dBFS)

amplitude (dBFS)
-30 -30
-40 -40
-50 -50
-60 -60
-70 -70
-80 -80
-90 -90
-100 -100
100 1000 10000 100 1000 10000
frequency (Hz) frequency (Hz)

Hunter Electronics MP3 player Hunter Electronics MP3 player + RadioShack speaker
0 0
-10 Fig. 4.3 -10 Fig. 4.4
-20 -20
amplitude (dBFS)

amplitude (dBFS)

-30 -30
-40 -40
-50 -50
-60 -60
-70 -70
-80 -80
-90 -90
-100 -100
100 1000 10000 100 1000 10000
frequency (Hz) frequency (Hz)

Fig. 4. Analysis of sound frequency distribution (as FFT profile) of the standard recording of
Manx Shearwater calls (4.1), together with reproduction of this recording on three different
device configurations.

Fig. 4.1 shows the resulting frequency distribution of the original playback file, while fig. 4.2
shows the trace for one of the cassette recorders used, which is reasonably faithful to the orig-
inal MP3 file, albeit with a slight notch in the middle of the 3 kHz frequency peak. The other
cassette recorders tested performed similarly. However, the trace for the Hunter Electronics
MP3 player (fig. 4.3) shows a worrying 20 dB reduction in the 1 kHz peak, along with distor-
tion to the 3 kHz peak. This perhaps suggests that the unit has been optimised to reproduce
the higher-frequency calls of small songbirds at the expense of performance at lower frequen-
cies. Connecting a small external speaker through the headphone socket improved the situa-
tion considerably (fig. 4.4), though still with some residual distortion around 2 kHz. Other
digital devices tested, such as smartphones and mini-MP3 players, produced a reasonably
faithful frequency distribution, but were invariably short on volume and all needed a mini
external speaker to reach the output level of the cassette recorders. This issue of volume, par-
ticularly where smartphones were used without a speaker, may have contributed to the other
poor response rates apparent for some surveyors during 2017.

Population changes in other breeding at a perilously low level at the time of rat
seabirds on Lundy eradication. The population in 2000 was just
The eradication of rats appears to have been 13 birds and this dipped still further, to just
a turning point not only for Manx five individuals in 2004, the year the rat erad-
Shearwaters but also for many of Lundy’s ication was completed (Price & Slader 2004).
breeding seabirds. Surveys since 2000 have Since then, their recovery has been remark-
shown that the most dramatic changes have able with 375 birds recorded in 2017 (Booker
occurred in the auk populations. Puffins were et al. 2018). Guillemots have increased from

224 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Seabird recovery on Lundy

2,348 to 6,198 individuals

since the Seabird 2000
survey and Razorbills
from 950 to 1,735 individ-
uals (Booker et al. 2018).
As with Puffin numbers,
these increases have
occurred since 2004 (see
fig. 5) and have been
accompanied by an expan-
sion in nesting distribu-
tion. All three species are
now increasingly occu-
pying breeding sites in the
broken ground where the
clifftop grades into the
steep grassy slope and pro-
vides a mix of boulders,
soil and crevices. These
areas would have been
accessible to rats but are
now safe nesting sites for
Another notable devel-
opment was the discovery
of a juvenile European

David Price
Storm-petrel Hydrobates
pelagicus in 2014, which
constituted the first con-
firmed breeding for Lundy 125. Marking a burrow for inclusion in the calibration plot, June 2018.
(Taylor 2015). This has
been followed by the establishment of a small Nests, AON) and Fulmars Fulmarus glacialis
colony of 9–16 AOB in 2018 (RSPB unpub- (227 Apparently Occupied Sites, AOS)
lished data). Prior to 2014, studies had found remained relatively stable (Booker et al.
no evidence of breeding storm-petrels (Perry 2018), despite UK population declines of
1940; Webb 1991; Price
2002; Booker & Townend 7,000
2010). Although it cannot Guillemots
be proven, it is likely that 6,000
this species was wiped out Lundy
no. birds at breeding sites

by rats and it will be fasci- rat-free
nating to see how the pop- in spring
4,000 2004
ulation responds in future
years. 3,000 2,321
For other seabirds, the
impact of the rat eradica- 2,000
tion programme is less
clear, and perhaps 841
obscured by other factors.
Between 2000 and 2017, 0
2000 2004 2008 2013 2017
populations of Shags
Phalacrocorax aristotelis Fig. 5. Population change in breeding Razorbills Alca torda and
(55 Apparently Occupied Common Guillemots Uria aalge on Lundy, 2000–17.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230 225

Booker et al.

2018) against a UK decline

estimated at 11% since
2000 (JNCC 2016).
By contrast, Herring
Gulls L. argentatus and
Lesser Black-backed Gulls
L. fuscus have declined
markedly between 2000
and 2018, though the
latter had previously
increased (Price 2018; fig.
6). Kittiwakes Rissa tri-
dactyla declined from a
2000 population of 237
AON down to 127 AON in
2013, but they appear to
have rallied subsequently
with 238 AON recorded in
2017 (Booker et al. 2018).
The declines in Herring
and Lesser Black-backed
Gulls on Lundy are
broadly in line with wider
trends. Breeding Lesser
Black-backed Gulls in
England declined by an
estimated 48% between
David Price

2000 and 2013, largely

driven by declines at ‘tra-
ditional’ coastal colonies
126. Occupied Manx Shearwater burrow (marked by the cassette (JNCC 2016). Similarly,
recorder) above the narrow gully near St John’s Stone, almost on the the UK Herring Gull pop-
main plateau of Lundy, June 2018. ulation has declined by an
estimated 43% since 2000
34% and 31% respectively between 2000 and despite some local increases, for example in
2015 (Hayhow et al. 2017). Similarly, Great several urban centres in England (JNCC
Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus, with 46 2016).
AON in 2018, are also fairly stable (Price
1,200 The increase in Lundy’s
Herring Lesser Black-
Manx Shearwater
no. apparently occupied nests

1,000 Gulls backed Gulls

The increase in Lundy’s

Manx Shearwater popula-
600 tion since 2001 is dramatic.
Although the rat eradica-
400 tion took two winters to
complete, the vast majority
of the island was cleared
0 during the first winter,
1986 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2013 2017–18
giving the seabirds virtually
Fig. 6. Population change in Herring Larus argentatus and Lesser rat-free breeding condi-
Black-backed Gulls L. fuscus, 1986–2018. tions from 2003 onwards.

226 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Seabird recovery on Lundy

The typical age of first breeding of Manx population, but that the rate of immigration
Shearwaters is six years (Brooke 1990), yet has also increased – perhaps a function of the
the increase in population has been rapid, larger colony size on Lundy proving a greater
from an estimated 297 pairs in 2001 to over attraction to prospecting birds (Price &
1,000 pairs by 2008 (Booker & Price 2010). Booker 2013).
Such a rate of increase could be explained The increase in the numbers of burrows
only by immigration of birds reared at other checked over each survey is also of interest.
colonies, most likely Skomer and Skokholm. Manx Shearwaters will occupy vacant cham-
Since there was no evidence of successful bers (including European Rabbit Oryctolagus
breeding on Lundy prior to the rat eradica- cuniculus burrows) or dig their own (Brooke
tion (Taylor 1990), it would seem that the 1990). The increase in the number of
population was being maintained at a low burrows during each survey may also reflect
level only by immigration. the highest densities of the rabbit population
Fig. 2 shows a notable upturn in the rate (up to 20,000 in the years prior to 2010; Day
of increase from 2008 onwards and while et al. 2010), but perhaps also the increasing
immigration will no doubt have continued, numbers of birds digging their own burrows,
birds reared on Lundy since 2003 should and increasing the overall availability of nest
have been returning to the island during this sites.
period, to provide additional recruitment Manx Shearwaters have also responded
into the breeding population. Ringing activi- positively to rat eradication projects else-
ties, which have supported the survey work where. For example, on the Pembrokeshire
since the rat eradication, have been targeted island of Ramsey, the recovery pattern has
at both adults and newly emerged chicks, and been similar to that observed on Lundy. On
the recapture of an adult in 2011 that had Ramsey, the 1998 population of 849 pairs
been ringed as a chick on Lundy in 2008 con- increased to 4,796 pairs in 2016, following rat
firmed that birds were indeed returning eradication in 1999/2000 (RSPB unpublished
(Davis & Jones 2012). The higher rate of data). The more recent Isles of Scilly Seabird
population increase after 2008 was main- Recovery Project worked to eradicate rats
tained after 2013 to the 2017/18 population from the islands of St Agnes and Gugh in
figure. This suggests that not only are more 2013. Declared rat-free in March 2016, these
Lundy chicks being recruited into the islands recorded the first Manx Shearwater

Tim Frayling

127. Surveying Pyramid slope on the west coast of Lundy, June 2018.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217 – 230 227

Booker et al.
Elisabeth Price

128. Juvenile Manx Shearwater at night, exploring the immediate environs of its burrow; Lundy,
September 2018.

chicks to fledge there in living memory in Conclusions

August and September 2014, and in 2015 Despite declines in Herring and Lesser Black-
European Storm-petrels were also found backed Gulls, the total seabird assemblage on
breeding there (Heaney & St Pierre 2017). Lundy has tripled since 2000 to just over
Such a rapid response to rat eradication 21,000 birds in 2017/18 and now exceeds
demonstrates both the devastating impact of international importance thresholds both for
these predators and the huge conservation its total assemblage (over 20,000 breeding
benefits these recovery projects can provide. seabirds; JNCC 1999) and for its Manx
Shearwater population (3,700 pairs; Mitchell
Playback issues encountered during et al. 2004).
2017 fieldwork Brown et al. (2011) speculated whether
The technical analysis of sound reproduction the increases in seabirds between 2001 and
from playback devices described in Box 1 2008 could be the start of a major recovery
highlighted an important consideration for following rat removal. A decade on there
similar surveys proposing to use digital seems little doubt that the absence of rats is
recordings during the fieldwork. Though the main driver for such positive changes not
digital format per se may be assumed to be only for Manx Shearwaters, but also for
superior to analogue, it is critical to ensure Puffins, Guillemots and Razorbills, and has
that the playback devices are adequate in enabled the (re)colonisation of European
producing faithful sound reproduction. In Storm-petrels.
addition, although devices such as smart- The seabird response to the removal of
phones may faithfully produce the range of rats has far exceeded our expectations, raising
sound frequencies of the original recording, the question of how much the populations
our results suggest that in most cases it is will continue to grow. For Manx Shearwaters,
advisable to use an external speaker plugged it certainly appears that habitat and burrow
into the device to ensure that the playback is availability will not be limiting for many
at an adequate volume to penetrate the years to come. Maintaining a rat-free island
typical length of a Manx Shearwater burrow. will be critical to the ongoing recovery and

228 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Seabird recovery on Lundy

future security of Lundy’s Manx Shearwaters Dept of Lands and Survey, Wellington.
and the other seabirds that seem to be bene- Bell, M. 2001. A feasibility study into the eradication
of rats from Lundy Island, Bristol Channel, UK.
fiting from rat-free conditions. The island Unpublished report to RSPB.
has a comprehensive biosecurity plan Bolton, M., Brown, J. G., Moncrieff, H., Ratcliffe, N.,
(MacDonald & Booker 2017), which sets out & Okill, J. D. 2010. Playback re-survey and
demographic modelling indicate a substantial
measures to minimise the likelihood of rats increase in breeding European Storm-petrels
returning to Lundy. This, alongside an Hydrobates pelagicus at the largest UK colony,
ongoing monitoring programme to assist rat Mousa, Shetland. Seabird 23: 14–24.
detection and an action plan to restore the Booker, H., & Price, D. 2010. Manx Shearwaters on
Lundy: a study of population and distribution
island’s rat-free status in the event of an change from 2001 to 2008. J. Lundy Field Soc.
incursion, should ensure that Lundy remains 2: 105–112.
a safe nesting island long into the future. — & — 2014. Manx Shearwater recovery on Lundy:
population and distribution change from 2001 to
Adequate food supply is the other critical 2013. J. Lundy Field Soc. 4: 105–116.
factor supporting seabird productivity and — & Townend, C. 2010. Lundy storm petrel survey
populations. It is vital that food remains 2010. RSPB unpublished report, Exeter.
abundant within the foraging ranges of —, Slader, P., Price, D., Bellamy, A., & Frayling, T. 2018.
Cliff nesting seabirds on Lundy: population trends
Lundy’s seabirds, a matter of increasing from 1981 to 2017. J. Lundy Field Soc. 6: 65–76.
uncertainty in the face of climate change and Brooke, M. 1990. The Manx Shearwater. Poyser,
associated impacts on marine ecosystems. London.
Identification and protection of important Brown, A., Price, D., Slader, P., Booker, H., Lock, L., &
Deveney, D. 2011. Seabirds on Lundy: their current
foraging areas and sensitive fisheries manage- status, recent history and prospects for the
ment will help to ensure that our seabirds restoration of a once-important bird area.
can thrive into the future. Brit. Birds 104: 139–158.
Davis, T., & Jones, T. 2012. Birds on Lundy 2011.
On Lundy, Manx Shearwaters and auks Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 61: 34.
appear to have the necessary combination of Day, J., White, J., & Cruickshanks, K. 2010. Conservation
safe nesting sites and adequate food and are Management Plan for Lundy Island. The Landmark
setting Lundy on track to re-establish itself as Trust/Footprint Ecology.
Dean, B., et al. 2015. Simultaneous multi-colony
a major UK seabird colony. tracking of a pelagic seabird reveals cross-colony
utilization of a shared foraging area. Marine Ecology
Acknowledgments Progress Series 538: 239–248.
The survey was organised by the RSPB and was du Feu, C. R., Hounsome, M. V., & Spence, I. M. 1983.
supported by Landmark Trust, and thanks must go to A single session mark/recapture method of
Derek Green, Lundy General Manager, and Dean population estimation. Ringing and Migration
Woodfin Jones, Lundy Warden, for their support. We 4: 211–226.
also thank the following for assistance with fieldwork in Hayhow, D. B., et al. The State of the UK’s Birds 2017.
2017 and/or 2018: RSPB staff and volunteers (Laura The RSPB, BTO, WWT, DAERA, JNCC, NE and
Bambini, A. J. Bellamy, Hadyn Brookes, Deborah NRW, Sandy.
Deveney, Neil Duffield, Richard Halstead, Sarah Havery, Heaney, V., & St Pierre, P. 2017. The status of seabirds
Tim Jones, Nikki Marks, Natalie Muirhead-Davies, Toby breeding in the Isles of Scilly in 2015/16.
Taylor, Lydia Titterton and Chris Townend), Natural Unpublished RSPB Report.
England staff (Sarah Ayling, Richard Caldow, Mags JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee). 1999.
Cousins, Ruth Crundwell, Bart Donato, Georgie Evans, The Birds Directive – selection guidelines for
Vicky Gilson, Zoe Gorvett, Ivan Lakin, Rob Large, Katie Special Protection Areas. JNCC, Peterborough.
Lloyd, Esther Pawley, Ruth Porter, Thomas Shanta, Chris
Singfield and Nik Ward) and the Landmark Trust Lundy — 2016. Seabird population trends and causes of
conservation team (Robert Andrew, Vicky Edwards, change: 1986–2015.
Kathryn MacKinnon, Siân Scott and Dean Woodfin page-3201
Jones). Lock, J. 2006. Eradication of Brown Rats Rattus
norvegicus and Black Rats Rattus rattus to restore
breeding seabird populations on Lundy Island,
References Devon, England. Conservation Evidence 3: 111–113.
Appleton, D., Booker, H., Bullock, D. J., Cordrey, L., & MacDonald, R., & Booker, H. 2017. Lundy biosecurity
Sampson, B. 2006. The Seabird Recovery Project: plan to prevent, detect and respond to rat and
Lundy Island. Atlantic Seabirds 8: 51–59. House Mouse incursion. Unpublished report,
Atkinson, I. A. E. 1978 Evidence for effects of rodents The Landmark Trust and RSPB.
on the vertebrate wildlife of New Zealand Islands. Micol, T., & Jouventin, P. 2002. Eradication of rats and
In: Dingwall, P. R., Atkinson, I. A. E., & Hay, C. (eds.), rabbits from Saint-Paul Island, French Southern
The Ecology and Control of Rodents in New Zealand Territories. In: Veitch, C. R., & Clout, M. N. (eds.),
Nature Reserves, pp. 7–32. Information Series No. 4, Turning the Tide: the eradication of invasive species,

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Dean Woodfin Jones

129. Surveying the former rhododendron areas on Lundy, June 2018.

pp. 199–295. IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist — & — 2013. Lundy Island, Manx Shearwaters,
Group, Gland and Cambridge. breeding population and distribution survey, 2013.
Mitchell, P. I., Newton, S. F., Ratcliffe, N., & Dunn, T. E. Unpublished RSPB report.
2004. Seabird Populations of Britain and Ireland. — & Slader, P. 2004. Lundy census of breeding
Poyser, London. seabirds. Site Register 2004. Unpublished report.
Perry, R. 1940. Lundy: Isle of Puffins, Drummond, Studdy, R. E. 1948. Report on the Manx Shearwater.
London. Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Report 1948: 25–26.
Perkins, A. J., Douse, A., Morgan, G., Cooper, A., & Taylor, A. M. 1986. Manx Shearwaters on Lundy: ringing
Bolton, M. 2017. Using dual-sex calls improves the studies and observations. Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep.
playback census method for a nocturnal burrow- 36: 23–24.
nesting seabird, the Manx Shearwater Puffinus — 1990. Manx Shearwaters on Lundy: further ringing
puffinus. Bird Study 64: 146–158. studies and observations on breeding status.
Price, D. 2002. Lundy Island. Storm petrels: Survey of Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 40: 31–33.
potential breeding habitat. Unpublished report. — 2015. Storm Petrel: first confirmed breeding record
— 2018. Gulls on Lundy, 2018. Breeding season for Lundy and Devon. Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep.
survey. Unpublished RSPB report. 64: 66–68.
— & Booker, H. 2000. Lundy Island, Manx Shearwater Webb, A. 1991. Report on survey of burrow-nesting
Survey – June 2000. Unpublished RSPB report. seabirds on Lundy, 1–5 June 1991. Internal report
— & — 2002. Manx Shearwaters on Lundy. for JNCC.
Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 51: 95–103.

Helen Booker, RSPB, 4th floor, North Block, Broadwalk House, Southernhay West,
Exeter EX1 1TS; e-mail
David Price, 8 Scattor View, Bridford, Exeter EX6 7JF
Peter Slader, 10 Moorland Way, Exeter EX4 2ET
Tim Frayling, Natural England, Ground Floor, Sterling House, Dix’s Field, Exeter EX1 1QA
Tom Williams, 12 Oxenpark Gate, Bridford, Exeter EX6 7RJ
Mark Bolton, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL

Helen Booker is a Senior Conservation Officer at the RSPB and has been involved in running both the Lundy
Seabird Recovery Project and the monitoring of seabird population change. David Price is an active birdwatcher
and ringer in Devon, with a particular interest in population monitoring. Peter Slader spent most of his working
life in higher education. He first visited Lundy Island in 1992 to help with the survey of cliff-nesting seabirds and
has taken part in every survey since, including the surveys of Manx Shearwaters. Tim Frayling is a Senior Marine
Ornithologist at Natural England based in Exeter, and led the Natural England survey teams in 2017 and 2018.
Tom Williams has been involved in ecological survey work for over 20 years, and is also a photographer,
videographer and sound recordist. Mark Bolton works as a Principal Conservation Scientist at RSPB, and is
involved in a wide range of marine conservation projects.

230 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 217– 230

Short papers
Northern Wheatears on Lundy: the impact of rat eradication

Abstract Data on the breeding population of Northern Wheatears Oenanthe

oenanthe on Lundy, Devon, are presented, including recent surveys of the whole
island and a Retrapping Adults for Survival (RAS) project. The results suggest a
marked increase in breeding Wheatears since the successful rat eradication
project on the island. Potential reasons for these results are discussed.

he island of Lundy is situated in the has had a positive effect on breeding
Bristol Channel, 18 km NNW of Wheatears as well.
Hartland Point in Devon. It is a
granite outcrop, about 5 km long and 1 km Lundy’s Wheatear population
wide, and consists of a plateau 80–140 m before rat eradication
above sea level, fringed by steep grassy slopes Between 1947 and 1973, Lundy was operated
known as the Sidelands. These are inter- as a bird observatory. Much of the wardens’
spersed with rock buttresses, and lead down time was spent studying migrants and
to sheer cliffs that hold large numbers of breeding seabirds but there are some records
breeding seabirds. of the number of breeding pairs of
Wheatears on the island, which ranged from
The rat eradication project zero to ten pairs annually. No further details
During the twentieth century, it became clear were published in the Lundy Field Society
that the predation by rats, both Brown Rats (LFS) annual reports for the relevant years,
Rattus norvegicus and Black Rats R. rattus, so survey methods and the areas where pairs
was having a major impact on populations of were found are not known.
Lundy’s breeding seabirds, in particular From 1974 onwards, wardening of the
Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus and island was directed primarily at the marine
Puffins Fratercula arctica (Taylor
1986, 1990). Following the
necessary feasibility studies, a
successful rat eradication pro-
gramme was carried out in the
winters of 2002/03 and 2003/04,
and since then the island’s
seabird populations have
increased markedly – see Booker
et al. (2019) and references
It was anticipated that rat
eradication would have a posi-
tive impact on Lundy’s seabirds,
and censuses carried out in 2000
and 2001 (Price & Booker 2002)
Rebecca Taylor

gave baseline figures against

which any increases could be
measured. The possible benefits
to landbird species, such as
Northern Wheatears Oenanthe 130. A Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe on Lundy, June
oenanthe, were less clear, but it 2015. This breeding female was colour-ringed in 2013 and seen
now appears that rat eradication in the following three summers.

© British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 231– 236 231

Short papers

environment, with the waters around Lundy pairs, in both 1981 and 1996.
becoming the UK’s first statutory Marine Between 2000 and 2004, three surveys of
Nature Reserve, in 1986. This meant that the Lundy’s breeding landbirds were carried out.
majority of bird records were casual observa- The first, in 2000, located 20 pairs of
tions by visitors, although important contri- breeding Wheatears (Davis & Jones 2007),
butions were made by several birders who while in May 2001, a team of staff and volun-
worked on the island in other capacities. teers from the RSPB and English Nature
Between 1974 and 1999, the Wheatear located 23 pairs (Lock 2002). In 2004, Leigh
breeding population was not systematically Lock repeated the 2001 survey, using similar
monitored and no annual census was under- methodology, and located 20 pairs (Lock
taken. A few of the LFS reports use wording 2005).
such as ‘at least five pairs’ (1985) or refer to
small numbers of fledged young being seen, The Wheatear population since rat
but most reports make no comment. The eradication
highest estimates in these reports were ten In early June 2010, Tim Davis and Tim Jones
visited Lundy to carry out census
work for Bird Atlas 2007–11
(Balmer et al. 2013). They esti-
mated the Wheatear breeding
population at 30–40 pairs (Tim
Davis pers. comm.), significantly
more than had been expected,
and the first indication that the
population was increasing. In
2012, Richard Taylor and Tony
Taylor (AMT) were on Lundy in
late May, primarily to study
Manx Shearwaters, and noticed
an unexpectedly large number of
breeding Wheatears. Since
Wheatears are a high priority for
the BTO’s Retrapping Adults
for Survival (RAS) project, a
study involving colour-ringing
breeding adults began in 2013,
with a view to registering the
work as a RAS project. In early
June 2013, 49 breeding Wheat-
ears were colour-ringed in the
south and west of the island,
between The Castle in the south-
east and The Battery on the west
coast (fig. 1). In late May and
early June 2014, more birds were
colour-ringed and resightings of
birds ringed in 2013 were
From 2015, the fieldwork
season was extended to three
weeks and the study area
expanded north to Halfway
Wall, in order to colour-ring and
Fig. 1. Map of Lundy showing features mentioned in the text. resight sufficient birds each year

232 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 231– 236

Short papers

Tony Taylor
131. The west coast of Lundy between The Battery (left) and The Old Light (right), October 2009.
A probable total of 16 pairs of Northern Wheatears bred on the Sidelands and cliffs of this section
of coast in 2017.

to produce reliable RAS data. These changes On 31st May 2014, AMT and Ann Taylor
have been successful: in 2017, 51 breeding recorded all Wheatear sightings during a
adults were ringed and 48 adults from pre- one-day island-wide survey, moving at a con-
vious years were resighted. As a result of the stant speed around the edge of the plateau
RAS project, it has been possible to give accu- and stopping at regular intervals to scan the
rate figures for the number of pairs breeding plateau and Sidelands. As in 2013, a conver-
in the study area each year from 2013, since sion factor from data in the colour-ringing
almost all of the adult birds involved are study area was employed, and this generated
colour-ringed by the end of the season’s field- an estimated island total of 115 pairs (Taylor
work and most nest sites are known. From 2015).
these figures, population estimates for the In 2015 and 2016, weather conditions
whole island can be extrapolated. were unsuitable for repeat surveys using the
In June 2013, David Price took part in a same method as in 2014, but estimates of 100
Manx Shearwater population survey, which and 110 pairs were made using data from the
involved visiting the
Sidelands round the whole 125
island coast, and he noted
all Wheatears encountered 100 whole-island population
by the survey group. By study-area population
comparing the number of
birds recorded in the 50
colour-ringing study area
during the shearwater 25
survey with the number of
pairs known to be breeding 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
there, a simple conversion
factor was calculated and Fig. 2. Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe population
applied to the all-island estimates on Lundy, 1951–2018, for the whole island (blue bars) and
the current RAS study area (red bars). Data for the period 1951–96
Wheatear count to give an
are from the Lundy Field Society annual reports, and from 2000
island total of about 80 onwards from targeted surveys (see text). The rat eradication
pairs (Taylor 2014). programme was completed in winter 2003/04.

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 231– 236 233

Short papers

study area and a conversion factor based on As the demands of growing young
other years’ figures, together with island-wide increase, the main feeding areas change.
observations by Tim Davis and Tim Jones in Colour-ringing has shown that adults will fly
2015. Rebecca Taylor completed whole-island several hundred metres for each feeding trip,
surveys on 7th June 2017 and 6th June 2018, with a climb of up to 90 m from some cliff
and estimates of 121 pairs and 114 pairs nest sites, to exploit the rich insect life in
respectively were derived from these. The areas of unimproved grassland on the
estimated numbers of breeding Wheatears plateau. Although there is some aggression
between 1951 and 2018, and numbers in the between individuals there, these feeding areas
study area from 2013, are shown in fig. 2. are effectively used ‘communally’. The partic-
ular locations exploited vary according to the
Feeding behaviour on Lundy conditions, especially wind direction and
Wheatear nest sites on Lundy are currently strength.
restricted almost entirely to the Sidelands The unimproved grassland, which is
and cliffs. Pairs normally remain close to closely cropped (mainly by sheep), appears to
their nest sites and feed in the immediate be important in the success of Lundy’s
vicinity until they have large young, unless Wheatears. The adjacent improved grassland
adverse weather conditions force the adults is largely avoided by Wheatears, even though
to move farther afield to find more sheltered this necessitates long feeding flights by some
feeding places. pairs; and the highest breeding concentra-
tions are close to
the unimproved
grazing land, with
many nest sites less
than 70 m apart

The distribution of
breeding Wheatears
around the island’s
fringe means that
many pairs are easy
to miss without
extensive searching,
and some birds
using inaccessible
cliff sites are not
evident until they
are feeding large
young. Colour-
ringing has been an
essential tool in
clarifying the situa-
tion. During the
current study, two
or three weeks of
Tony Taylor

full-time survey
work have been
needed each year
132. A Northern Wheatear breeding territory on Lundy’s south coast, May before surveyors are
2017. The nest site used in 2017 is arrowed. Within 150 m to the west of confident that all
this site were a further three nests. pairs in the study

234 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 231– 236

Short papers

Tony Taylor
133. The view north across Southwest Field on Lundy, May 2017. This sheep-grazed area of
unimproved grassland is used by at least 12 pairs of Northern Wheatears nesting on nearby
Sidelands and cliffs, when they are collecting food for large nestlings. This may involve a flight of
several hundred metres and height gain of 90 m to find a single large item, usually insect larvae.

area have been found. This suggests that seems likely that current levels of produc-
records from the twentieth century, when tivity are sufficient to drive the observed
survey work was much less intensive, prob- population increase without immigration.
ably underestimated the breeding popula- Ringing has provided no evidence of
tion. Nonetheless, the bird observatory immigration or emigration so far. The only
wardens spent much of each breeding season bird seen away from Lundy was a male,
visiting seabird colonies, so they would have colour-ringed in 2015, photographed on
been climbing up and down the Sidelands to Guernsey on 13th March 2017 and back on
reach them. This should have taken them his Lundy breeding territory by 24th March
close to many potential Wheatear breeding 2017. Evidence of recruitment of young to
sites. Hence, while the Wheatear population the breeding population is limited because
may have been underestimated, it seems few Lundy nestlings can be reached for
inconceivable that it could have been any- ringing: most nest burrows are too deep, too
where near the current population levels. narrow and/or in dangerously steep areas. Of
Lock (2002) suggested that changes in the 47 nestlings ringed between 2013 and
grazing regimes might have benefited 2017, six have been retrapped and colour-
Wheatears on Lundy. With high numbers of ringed as breeding adults the following year.
Soay sheep in the northern half of the island The 2018 season appeared to be adversely
and domestic sheep being restricted to affected by severe weather in spring. There
certain fields and areas of moorland south of was a greater spread of arrival dates and,
Quarter Wall, several areas of unimproved compared with earlier years, much more
grassland are now more heavily grazed than changing of territories and partners from the
they were historically, leading to the shorter previous breeding season. One early arriving
swards that Wheatears favour. female, originally colour-ringed when
Fig. 2 suggests that the increase in breeding in 2014, was photographed on
breeding Wheatears recorded since 2010 Lundy in snow on 18th March 2018 but not
more or less coincided with the rat eradica- seen again. So the slight decrease in the esti-
tion project, supporting the idea that the two mated whole-island population may well be a
changes are linked. During the RAS study, temporary, weather-related effect, rather than
most fledged broods have consisted of five or indicating a long-term limit has being
six young, and most observed nesting reached.
attempts have been successful. Some pairs go Rat eradication on the RSPB’s Ramsey
on to have a second brood. Adult survival is Island reserve, off the Pembrokeshire coast,
high, with an average of 56% of colour- also resulted in an increase in the island’s
ringed birds returning the following year. It Wheatear population. The average Wheatear

British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 231– 236 235

Short papers

population in 1993–2000 was 67 pairs. on Lundy throughout the RAS project. My wife Ann
During this period, repair work on Ramsey’s and Richard’s wife Rebecca have given us invaluable
support in all this fieldwork. We are grateful to all the
broad field-boundary walls after the breeding observers who have reported sightings of colour-ringed
season revealed several predated nests, with birds, particularly Tim Davis, Tim Jones and Dean Jones,
decapitated females on clutches of eggs. After who have devoted many hours to the challenge of
identifying them; and to Tim Davis, Tim Jones, David
rat eradication, in 2001, the population
Price and Rebecca Taylor for making island-wide
reached 115 pairs in 2009 and the average for systematic counts that were vital for the calculation of
2008–17 was 98 pairs (Greg Morgan pers. population estimates. The hospitality of Helen Booker
comm.). This increase has not been on the and her teams carrying out seabird census work in
2013 and 2017, who shared their accommodation with
same scale as Lundy’s, perhaps because the us, was much appreciated. The Birds of Lundy fund,
majority of Ramsey nests are in field walls, managed by Devon Birds, gave financial help for the
away from the seabird colonies. On Lundy, purchase of colour-rings. This fund was set up by Tim
rats were concentrated near the seabird Davis and Tim Jones, to channel the profits from their
book The Birds of Lundy into bird-related projects on
colonies and, with Wheatear nests close by, the island. My thanks also go to Tim Davis, Tim Jones
the rats would have encountered them fre- and Richard Taylor for their valuable comments on an
quently. Lundy’s field walls do not make suit- earlier draft of this paper.
able nest sites.
Bird Atlas 2007–11 reported a 14% con- References
traction of the Wheatear’s breeding range in Balmer, D. E., Gillings, S., Caffrey, B. J., Swann, R. L.,
Downie, I. S., & Fuller, R. J. 2013. Bird Atlas 2007–11:
Britain since the 1968–72 Atlas, mainly away the breeding and wintering birds of Britain and Ireland.
from lowland habitats (Balmer et al. 2013). BTO Books, Thetford.
There was no annual UK-wide monitoring of Booker, H., Price, D., Slader, P., Frayling, T., Williams, T., &
breeding Wheatears until the BTO/JNCC/ Bolton, M. 2019. Seabird recovery on Lundy:
population change in Manx Shearwaters and other
RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) scheme seabirds in response to the eradication of rats.
started in 1994. Since then, the BBS index for Brit. Birds 112: 217–230.
Wheatears has fluctuated, with no clear long- Davis, T., & Jones, T. 2007. The Birds of Lundy. Harpers
term trend, but it fell every year from 2010 to Mill, Berrynarbor.
Lock, L. 2002. The breeding land birds of Lundy.
2017, with a 44% decline between those years Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 51: 104–112.
(Woodward et al. 2018). So the recent — 2005. The breeding landbirds survey of Lundy.
increases on Lundy and Ramsey have bucked Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 54: 51–62.
the trend of declines at the national level. Price, D., & Booker, H. 2002. Manx Shearwaters on
Lundy: report on the results of a breeding survey in
Given that Wheatears nest in burrows and May 2001. Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 51: 95–103.
rock crevices, it is unsurprising that rats Taylor, A. M. 1986. Manx Shearwaters on Lundy: ringing
might have had a significant impact on their studies and other observations. Lundy Field Soc. Ann.
Rep. 36: 23–24.
survival and breeding success, but the scale of
— 1990. Manx Shearwaters on Lundy: further ringing
the population increase on Lundy since rat studies and observations on breeding status.
eradication has been remarkable. With no Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 40: 31–33.
clear evidence that the population has yet — 2014. Lundy’s Wheatear population in 2013.
Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 63: 80–84.
reached the island’s carrying capacity, it will — 2015. Lundy’s Wheatear population in 2014.
be fascinating to see how long the upward Lundy Field Soc. Ann. Rep. 64: 92–97.
trend continues and to what level. There is Woodward, I. D., et al. 2018. BirdTrends 2018: trends in
also a good chance that Wheatears will numbers, breeding success and survival for UK
breeding birds. Research Report 708. BTO, Thetford.
respond positively on other islands where
rats have been eradicated recently, including
Note: All of the annual reports of the Lundy Field
the Shiants and some of the Isles of Scilly. Society and issues of the Journal of the Lundy Field
Society are available online:
Acknowledgments index.php/resources/annual-report-archive and
I am greatly indebted to Richard Taylor, who has shared
the work of trapping, ringing and observing Wheatears archive

Tony Taylor, 26 High Street, Spetisbury, Blandford DT11 9DJ;


236 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 231– 236

Recent reports
Compiled by Barry Nightingale and Harry Hussey

This summary of unchecked reports covers early February to early March 2019.
Headlines Two species on most birders’ most-wanted lists appeared at opposite ends of the
UK, with a Tengmalm’s Owl in Shetland and a Black-browed Albatross that made several
appearances off Cornwall. In an otherwise largely quiet period, a strong southerly airstream,
with record high temperatures, brought a Great Spotted Cuckoo to Co. Cork, five Red-rumped
Swallows and widespread reports of exceptionally early Barn Swallows and House Martins
across southern counties, plus an arrival of Glossy Ibises.

Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii Long-stayers Islay Pacific Diver Gavia pacifica Crookhaven (Co.
(Argyll), to 28th February, and North Uist (Outer Cork), long-stayer to 17th February. White-billed
Hebrides), to 17th February. American Wigeon Diver Gavia adamsii Records from North-east
Mareca americana Long-stayers Co. Derr y, Scotland (3), Orkney (2), Outer Hebrides and
Highland, Northumberland and Worcestershire; Shetland (3).
Lough Atedaun (Co. Clare), 9th–15th February.
Black Duck Anas rubripes Strontian (Highland), Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris
long-stayer to 18th February. Ferruginous Duck Lizard Point (Cornwall), 8th–9th February.
Aythya nyroca Long-stayers Holyfield Lake (Essex),
to 9th February and Blashford Lakes (Hampshire), Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps Long-stayers
to 23rd February. King Eider Somateria spectabilis Loch Feorlin (Argyll), again 20th February and
Ynyslas area (Ceredigion), long-stayer to 12th Loch of Spiggie (Shetland), to 8th March.
February. Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata
Records from Co. Clare (2), Co. Donegal, Fife, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus Influx, with records
Lothian, Co. Meath (2) and Outer Hebrides. Black from 16 English, one Welsh and five Irish
Scoter Melanitta americana Long-stayers recording areas.
Bamburgh (Northumberland), again 16th
February and Rossbeigh (Co. Kerry), to 23rd Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
February. Frampton Marsh (Lincolnshire), long-stayer to 7th

Andy Jordan

134. Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea, released from Stevenston Point (Ayrshire), in February 2019.

© British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 237– 238 237

Recent reports
Larry Dalziel

135. Tengmalm’s Owl Aegolius funereus Bixter, Shetland, February 2019.

March. Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius Long- Cecropis daurica Cwm Ivy (Gower), 16th–21st and
stayers Killongford (Co. Waterford), to 2nd March, 24th February; Bosherton (Pembrokeshire), 22nd
and Ferrybank (Co. Wexford), to 2nd March. February; St Mary’s (Scilly), up to two 26th
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes Long-stayers February to 1st March, one to 6th March; Youghal
Devoran Quay (Cornwall), to 7th March and (Co. Cork), 7th–8th March.
Lodmoor (Dorset), to 8th March.
Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus Long-
Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea Recuperated adult stayers Cornwall to 7th March and Co. Durham to
released at Stevenston Point (Ayrshire), 11th 21st February. Blyth’s Reed Warbler Acrocephalus
Februar y. Bonaparte’s Gull Chroicocephalus dumetorum Hope Carr (Greater Manchester),
philadelphia Kilmore (Argyll), 20th February; long-stayer to 25th February. Rose-coloured
Kilmore Quay (Co. Wexford), 20th February. Starling Pastor roseus Long-stayer Llandudno
American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus Bray (Caernarfonshire), to 27th February. Arctic
(Co. Wicklow), 10th February. Forster’s Tern Redpoll Acanthis hornemanni Records from Norfolk
Sterna forsteri Nimmo’s Pier (Co. Galway), long- (2) and Shetland.
stayer to 27th February.
Notable records of commoner
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius species
Ballycroneen (Co. Cork), 15th February. Snowy Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis At least 17 in
Owl Bubo scandiacus Eday (Orkney), long-stayer to Ireland. Sand Martin Riparia riparia Widespread
11th Februar y ; Ronas Hill (Shetland), 28th early arrivals from mid February. Barn Swallow
February. Tengmalm’s Owl Aegolius funereus Bixter, Hirundo rustica Early arrivals in February from 15
19th–23rd February, then Tresta (Shetland), 25th English, four Welsh, three Irish and two Scottish
February to 2nd March. (Outer Hebrides and Shetland on 17th) recording
areas. House Martin Delichon urbicum Early
Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus Lodmoor, long- arrivals in February from eight English, three
stayer to 5th March; Crossness (Greater London), Scottish (including four in Shetland 16th), two
18th February to 5th March. Red-rumped Swallow Welsh and one Irish recording areas.

238 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 237– 238

My patch – Thetford
’ve been fortunate to have had excellent where I work. All of it is easily accessible on
local patches for the past two decades: the foot from home, although my bike has occa-
green spaces of Shanghai, then Abu sionally been employed for a ‘bird emer-
Dhabi, and, since 2009, the Nunnery Lakes gency’! The surrounding land use is diverse,
and surroundings on the south side of including residential housing to the north, a
Thetford. The last attracts rather fewer large estate with a sizeable gamebird shoot to
shrikes and rock thrushes than the others – the east and open-access land to the west,
so far! – but the birds and other taxa provide each bringing a blend of opportunities and
ample interest to keep me motivated on a challenges for birds and other wildlife.
near-daily basis, and to learn more about it BirdTrack shows that I
every time I visit. have just over 100,000 bird records from my
Thetford lies within Breckland, on the patch, the vast majority in more than 2,200
Norfolk/Suffolk border, an area characterised complete lists (visits where I logged all species
by a diverse mix of habitats including heath- positively identified by sight or sound, not just
land, conifer plantations and arable farming, the highlights). An oft-mentioned benefit of
and spread across a gently undulating plateau covering a local patch regularly is the potential
covered largely with sandy soils. Breckland is to find birds of site-level, local or even
designated as a Special Protection Area – and national rarity. Such discoveries are certainly
well known to birders – for supporting popu- rewarding, and for me they include the excite-
lations of European importance of European ment of stumbling across Kittiwake Rissa tri-
Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus (up to dactyla, Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis, Lapland
12.2% of the GB breeding population), Bunting Calcarius lapponicus and two Black-
Stone-curlew Burhinus oedicnemus (up to winged Stilts Himantopus himantopus, and
74.7%) and Woodlark Lullula arborea (up to dashing out of an interview – in which I’d
28.7%). My patch encompasses the former given a presentation about identifying
gravel workings, riverside fen and drier grass- Acrocephalus warblers by song – to twitch a
land habitats of the BTO Nunnery Lakes singing Great Reed Warbler A. arundinaceus a
reserve (a County Wildlife Site), the typical colleague had found less than 700 m away!
Breckland heaths of Barnhamcross Common However, I think the tendency of some
and Thetford Heath (both SSSIs), my house birders and recording groups to emphasise
and garden, and the BTO headquarters, the rare and unusual can detract from the Justin Walker

136. The habitat mosaic of southern Thetford, including the Nunnery Lakes, January 2018.

© British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 239 – 240 239

My patch

count 94) and that while
Willow Warblers Phylloscopus
80 trochilus are most numerous –
or at least most detectable – in
60 the third week of April (peak
count 16), it’s all about the last
40 week of August for Chiffchaffs
P. collybita (peak count 43).
2018 The discipline of doing
average 2011–17 complete lists for most of my
0 patch visits keeps me focused
J F M A M J J A S O N D during the quieter times and
Fig. 1. The percentage of visits to the Nunnery Lakes during has yielded some rarities, too.
which I recorded Green Woodpecker Picus viridis. In February 2019, I extended
an afternoon walk to a place
value of the ‘ordinary’. For me, the beauty of where a wintering Peregrine Falco peregrinus
having an extensive BirdTrack dataset for my can often be found along a line of pylons. As
patch is what it reveals about patterns of I approached the spot, a flock of Yellow -
occurrence/detectability of common birds. hammers Emberiza citrinella flew up into a
Many such species would be easy to overlook nearby oak. The urge to count them for my
if applying a subjective approach to complete list kicked in, and the sequence
recording, logging only the perceived ‘nota- went something like: Yellowhammer 1, 2, 3, 4,
bles’ on each visit. Green Woodpecker Picus 5… wait: that next one is a Little Bunting
viridis is a good example: a species I encoun- E. pusilla!
tered on more than two in three visits during Patches are about a personal connection
my early years on the patch but that has not only with a place and its birds, but also
plummeted to just one in five visits since the with the people who share it. Unsurprisingly,
end of summer 2018. Herring Gull Larus BTO’s only reserve is monitored regularly by a
argentatus is another: recorded on just 3% of small but dedicated band of birders, ringers
my visits to the Nunnery Lakes from July and nest recorders from among the organisa-
2009 to the end of 2012 (n = 373) but, fol- tion’s staff, past and present. Several local
lowing their colonisation of the warehouse residents and anglers are also interested in the
roofs of Thetford, featuring on two-thirds of site’s birdlife. Sharing and comparing discov-
my lists since the start of 2018 (n = 233). eries with other frequent visitors certainly
It took only a few years of consistently col- adds to the experience. For me, this is further
lected data for weekly changes in species enhanced by feeling part of a much larger
diversity to become apparent, too. April – community of patch-focused birders via
specifically the last ten days – is the best time BirdTrack, and through various light-hearted
for a big day list, and I’ve recorded 71% of all competitions over the years, including
the birds I’ve registered on patch during Patchwork Challenge and the Twenty Eleven
April. In contrast, many a coastal patch- All-taxa Listing (TEAL) Cup. The TEAL Cup
watcher’s favourite month, October, is typi- involved BTO and RSPB staff scouring the
cally quiet in deepest Breckland (57% by the reserves around their respective headquarters
same measure): most of the summer visitors throughout 2011; whilst BTO fell a few
have gone and many autumn arrivals are yet (hundred) beetles short on the all-taxa
to filter the 60–70 km inland. element, The Nunnery did pip The Lodge on
Whenever time allows, I count individ- birds! The overriding memory of that year was
uals, including as many common species as how people from across the organisation got
possible. This tells me that while Song involved, and how it highlighted the diversity
Thrush Turdus philomelos numbers peak of birds and other wildlife on our doorstep –
during the first week of October (max. site the very essence of watching a local patch.
count 27), the second week of November is
the week for Blackbirds T. merula (peak Nick Moran

240 British Birds 112 • April 2019 • 239 – 240


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