As spring arrives, we start to get tagged in more and more migratory bird sightings on Twitter and Facebook, with reports of swifts, swallows, nightingales and little terns rolling in fast.
This year we’ve even had reports of unusual migrants, such as this striking bluethroat making a brief stop off at RSPB Dungeness, Kent.
This annual influx of breeding birds is an exciting time; our reserves feel full of life and birdsong fills the air, but for some species, breeding success is more critical than others.
Why are they in trouble?
Nightingales have suffered a UK population decline of more than 90% in the last 40 years. Preferring to nesting on or near the ground in scrubby areas, loss of habitat is thought to be one of the key factors in this decline. There are estimated to be less than 5,500 remaining UK pairs, and they live almost exclusively in the south east and east of England.
How can I help? We are campaigning to save the UK’s best breeding site for nightingales, Lodge Hill, which is currently under threat of development. Take action and speak out here before it’s too late.
Where can I see one?
Although they are now few and far between, the National Nightingale Festival, running through April-May, can help you get up close to some of these amazing songsters. RSPB Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex, is one of the key hotspots, but you can visit the events page to find a nightingale near you!
Turtle doves are vulnerable to global extinction (IUCN Red List of Endangered Species). They have suffered a 91% UK population decline since 1995 and a 78% decline across Europe since 1980. At this current rate of change, if we don’t help this species, scientists calculate that complete UK extinction as a breeding species will be a real possibility.
How can I help?
The RSPB is one of several partners in Operation Turtle Dove, a project which aims to reverse this decline. The range of turtle doves has declined to mainly south east and eastern England, but if you live in these areas you may be able to create valuable turtle dove habitat with very little effort! The Operation Turtle Dove website has lots of useful information about how to help turtle doves, wherever you live.
It’s sadly very rare to see a turtle dove these days, but we have created habitat at a quiet reserve, RSPB Lydden Valley, Kent, in the heart of their breeding grounds. Visitors at RSPB Pagham Harbour were also lucky enough to see a juvenile outside the reserve visitor centre last September, which spent a few weeks taking advantage of the food on offer before starting migration!
In the South East, swifts declined by 55% between 1995-2014. Swifts like tradition; they pair for life and will use the same nest site for life too. Nesting in holes, often inside old buildings, you'll never see them building a nest outside. Our modern style of architecture doesn’t leave much space for these incredible birds to create new nests in.
How can I help?
Some developers have started adding specially-designed swift nestboxes to help young birds find new nesting sites in key population areas. You can help us to identify these by logging your own swift sightings here! You can find lots of other ways to help swifts on our website too
The easiest time to see one is June/July as they scream through the skies at dusk, often over urban areas. If you are looking for a real wildlife spectacle, visit RSPB Dungeness, Kent in late July to watch thousands of swifts, swallows and martins gather to feed over Burrows Pit in early evening.
These tiny seabirds are particularly vulnerable to climate change and human disturbance. Nesting on fine shingle near the high tide mark, eggs can easily be washed away or birds disturbed whilst incubating. Once the chicks hatch, finding food to feed them while watching for predators can be a daunting task. While we are working hard to help them on our reserves, little terns are still struggling to recover from a dramatic population decline between 1986 and 2013, when the number breeding in the south east of England of plummeted by a staggering 89%.
Volunteer at a breeding tern reserve, and help us create the ideal nesting habitat for these enigmatic little creatures. You can read Anne’s story on her volunteering experience here
Our coastal reserves are the best places to find tern colonies. Little terns breed at RSPB Langstone Harbour and RSPB Pagham Harbour. If you are based out in Kent you can see a close relative, the common tern at RSPB Dungeness.
Do more for nature and join the RSPB:
To help us help these migratory birds and other species, you can also join the RSPB as a member, making a small monthly donation which helps fund our conservation work. Becoming a member also gives you free access to our reserves all across the country, so you can see the conservation work your donation has funded!
Visit our website to join today.
We spend 90% of net income on conservation, public education and advocacy
The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International. Find out more about the partnership
© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654