British bird enthusiasts will witness a shifting pattern of bird species as the climate warms, according to scientists. While climate change poses challenges for birds, it will result in “winners and losers” on a local level.
Bird watchers are currently delighted by the presence of migrants rarely seen on British shores, such as black-winged stilts and bee-eaters. However, the UK’s cuckoo population is plummeting as its wildlife contends with various pressures.
In a Britain grappling with ecological depletion, nearly half of all bird species are in decline due to a range of stressors, including habitat loss, climate change, pesticide use, and the disappearance of meadows and hedgerows.
The British Trust for Ornithology, which monitors birds in the British Isles, reports a decline of 73 million wild birds in Britain since 1970.
Dr. Dave Leech, Head of Ringing at the British Trust for Ornithology, emphasises that climate change is increasingly challenging for migratory birds that must navigate extreme weather on multiple continents.
He said: “Climate change is one of the biggest pressures that all species are facing, but particularly migratory species, because they have to worry about the climate conditions not only where they’re breeding, but also where they’re wintering and the areas that they’re travelling through to get here, which can be thousands of kilometres.”
Some species, like reed warblers, are capitalising on longer, warmer summers by producing more offspring. Others, such as the Cetti’s warbler, which colonised the UK several decades ago, are expanding their range northward.
However, many species, including cuckoos and willow warblers, are dwindling in southern Britain as temperatures rise. Scientists believe that some birds struggle to adjust their internal biological clocks to synchronise with changing seasons.
Cuckoos, for instance, spend their summers in the UK, arriving in April and leaving in late June to over-winter in Africa. Dr. Dave Leech notes that they face difficulties returning over the Sahara because climate change has reduced their food supply for replenishing their energy before the crossing, resulting in a “free fall” in their numbers.
“How terrible would it be if future generations never heard a cuckoo, something that was so commonplace in British wildlife before now?” he said.
Many other migratory birds leave British shores and head south at this time, while others arrive from northern regions.
For decades, numerous skilled bird ringers and volunteers have collected data on shifts in British bird populations, shedding light on their decline. In Gloucestershire, where Peter has been ringing birds for years, he notes that there will be both winners and losers as a consequence of climate change.
“Future generations might not hear a nightingale or see a cuckoo but there will be other things they see.
“A bee-eater might become a common species for example. And by collecting all this ringing data we can monitor what is going on and mitigate for the human- led climate change that is the major driver behind most of these changes.”
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