17 January 2014

Nunnery nesting in 2014: off the mark!

We’re fast approaching the time of year where I grab my trusty nesting stick, Carl Barimore reaches for his mirror on a pole and Mike Toms straps on his endoscope as we head down to The Nunnery reserve to start looking for nests to monitor. We generally begin searching in late February, when the Long-tailed Tits begin to pair up and hang suspiciously around likely nesting sites (here typically gorse or bramble) and the first grebes, Mute Swan and Coot start gathering material. However, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities before that, and one was provided on the 15th January by our colleague, Neil Calbrade, who spotted a sitting Collared Dove in the Nunnery garden, the nest wedged between the branches of a  yew about 3m off the ground. This morning was the first chance I had to check it and the bird flew on my approach to reveal a single white egg; the ‘standard’ clutch size is two, but clutch sizes of early attempts made by multi-brooded species are often smaller (single-brooded species show the opposite pattern).

The typical view of a Collared Dove nest is the underside of a twiggy platform, several metres off the ground in a tree or shrub. It is almost always possible to see the adult sitting from the ground. Photo by  B Besley

It may be tempting to blame the unseasonably warm weather for this apparently early attempt, but Collared Dove is actually the only species in the BTO Nest Record Scheme (NRS) dataset that has been recorded as breeding in every month of the year (Fig 1), although if as many recorders focused on Mallard, it may well reveal the same pattern.

Number of NRS Collared Dove records for which an accurate laying date can be calculated by month in which first egg was laid

That said, fewer than 30 January attempts are logged in the NRS database, dating back to the mid-1960s, and this is the fifth nesting Collared Dove nest we’ve been informed of in the past fortnight (the third in Thetford alone), which suggests they may have made an early start.  It is impossible to compare years without first collecting the data, however; analyses are orders of magnitude more powerful than anecdote when it comes to influencing Government policy on climate change, so it is vital your records are submitted to a national nest-recording scheme.

So, why not make 2014 the year that you register with the Nest Record Scheme and get involved in nest recording – it’s great fun, you’ll learn a huge amount about the birds around you and, vitally, it provides information to support conservation efforts that can’t be gathered any other way.
Information about any species, no matter how common, in any habitat, be it your garden or a remote island, are of value as long as you can see inside to count the eggs and chicks. Looking in nests is perfectly legal as long as you don’t handle the contents, although a licence is need to monitor nests of Schedule 1 species and be sure to follow the NRS Code of Conduct

We’ll be monitoring the progress of our Collared Dove and about 400 other nests across The Nunnery over the course of this season, from Wrens to Mute Swans; we’ll keep you posted on our progress and we look forward to hearing about yours.

Dave Leech, Head of the Nest Record Scheme

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