Rare birds in Scotland face being wiped out by climate change warn RSPB

RARE birds in Scotland face being wiped out by climate change, behaviour experts warned today.

They also say migratory birds and other behaviours are being radically altered leaving species more vulnerable.

The State of the UK’s Birds report, says the RSPB, should serve as a continued warning as to the dangers faced.Distribution, numbers and behaviour of birds in the UK are all changing, the report says.

The RSPB said: “The report highlights how species are moving northwards within the UK, shifting their distributions as temperatures rise and the habitats change.

“Many of our rarer breeding birds are at a high risk of extinction in the UK, based on projections of how climate will become less suitable for these species. For species such as the dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter and snow bunting, whose UK breeding populations are found almost entirely in Scotland, population declines have been considerable already.

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“Breeding success of the Slavonian grebe has also been impacted. With Scotland on average 11 per cent wetter between 2007-2016 than 1961-1990 periods of very heavy rainfall during its breeding season leads to smaller populations.”

The reports also shows that the Scottish crossbill, the UK’s only endemic bird and only found in Scotland, is at risk of becoming extinct.

However, the report contains better news for some birds which are finding the changed climatic conditions more favourable in Scotland. Nuthatch, goldfinch and chiffchaff have been expanding their range into Scotland over the last 30 years with large increases in the number of these birds breeding here.

While the UK cuckoo population has declined by 43 per cent between 1995 and 2015, over the same period numbers in Scotland have increased by a third. Similar patterns have also been noted in numbers of willow warbler, house martins and tree pipits in Scotland.

Dr David Douglas, Principal Conservation Scientist at RSPB Scotland said: “The recent research compiled in this year’s The State of the UK’s Birds report shows that many birds in Scotland are being affected by a changing climate. For some birds this means they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to UK extinction, including many species where most, if not all, of the breeding population is found in Scotland. Other birds appear to have thrived in this warmer, wetter climate, which has allowed them to expand their range further north. Some species which were previously unusual visitors to Scotland now breed here in considerable numbers.”

One of the most compelling revelations is how birds have adapted their behaviour in response to warming temperatures.

One of our most familiar summer visitors, the swallow, which migrates to and from southern Africa each year, is arriving back in the in the UK 15 days earlier and breeding 11 days earlier than it did in the 1960s.

Swallows and other migratory birds, such as garden warblers and whitethroats are also delaying their return migration each autumn and so some species are now spending up to 4 weeks longer in the UK each year.

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Colette Hall, monitoring officer at WWT, said: “It isn’t just our breeding birds that are responding to the changing climate. Each winter, tens of thousands of waterbirds migrate to the UK and our long running network of volunteer waterbird counters has tracked their changes over decades.

“Warmer winters on the continent have meant more birds of certain species wintering further east, such as the European White-fronted Goose. However, that trend can mask real declines in some species, such as the Bewick’s swan and the common pochard. For this reason, amongst many others, it is vital we continue to monitor our bird populations so we can pinpoint where, and subsequently try to work out why, these changes are happening.

“We also need to think beyond the UK and make sure that the protected site network continues to cover the right places throughout Europe and that they’re monitored elsewhere as thoroughly as they are in the UK.”

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: The State of the UK’s Birds Report 2017

PICTURE CREDITS: John Bridges/RSPB-IMAGES.COM

Shaun Milne is a Scottish based journalist with a particular interest in environmental issues, politics and travel.

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