The Wryneck by Gerard Gorman

Time was when the wryneck was a widespread and relatively common breeding summer resident in much of Great Britain.

But the last nesting records for our islands were of a pair in Buckinghamshire in 1985 and of another in Ross-shire in 2002.

The sad state of affairs is lamented by Gerard Gorman in his excellent new book on the species where he writes: "Regrettably, Britain has the ignominy of being the only county in Europe from which wrynecks have become extirpated as breeding birds."

What went wrong? The author, an expert on the world's woodpecker family, of which the wryneck is one, acknowleges that degradation of habitat may be a factor, but it is probably not the only one.

The decline of the wryneck set in as far back as the late 1800s, long before the introduction of agro-chemicals and the intensification of how orchards, a favourite habitat, were managed.

What is more, there has been no comparable demise in the green woodpecker, a species which has similar habitat and feeding requirements.

On the plus side, wrynecks (up to about 300 a year) still occur on migration in Britain, prompting hopes, admittedly slim, that the bird may yet return as a breeder.

To UK birders, the author's exploration of the collapse of the wryneck is perhaps the most intriguing part of his narrative, but the remaining 200 or so pages are also full of fascinating information based both on his own research and his study of authoritative articles by other ornithologists.

The species' behaviour, its diet, its worldwide distribution, its favoured habitats and its place in folklore and mythology are all covered in absorbing detail.

Published at £24.99 by Pelagic Publishing (, The Wryneck is available wherever good books are sold.