29 April 2010


People often mention how amazing it is that, as soon as they leave the nests, birds seem to know exactly what they're doing. They can fly--many migrating long distances within a few months of hatching--and most are capable of finding their own food within a matter of days, unlike useless humans.

So, it's refreshing to know that sometimes, even birds can get it wrong. The BTO's Nest Record Scheme has received two reports this spring of birds that get an A for effort, but an F- for design, when it comes to building their nests.

Within days of nest recorder Graham Uney putting up a sparrow terrace, consisting of three nesting compartments in a row, a pair of Great Tits started building inside. Unfortunately, this particular pair couldn't seem to make their mind up which was the most desirable chamber and ended up building nests in all three, laying two eggs in two of them and a single egg in the third. Even if the male lends a hand during incubation, a degree of chivalry previously unheard of in the Great Tit world, they're still going to need to find a baby-sitter.

What number was it again? At least this episode confirms that Great Tits can't count either...

Not to be outdone, a Long-tailed Tit pair monitored by Jim Hodson spent a good few weeks constructing their intricately woven nest using moss, lichen and spider webs, but failed to spot a minor flaw in their design - they forgot to put a hole in it! Cue a hasty reconstruction job six inches away, using the old nesting material.

A Long-tailed Tit nest is a distinctive dome with, usually, a hole near the top (left in this picture).

We're just as interested to hear about birds getting it right, so if you've found a nest that you can see into to monitor, please contact us at nrs@bto.org for a free Starter Pack, or send us the details on-line at www.bto.org/nbc

Dr Dave Leech
Head of the Nest Record Scheme

24 April 2010

The ultimate eye test

Most people would rather not go to the opticians for an eye test but it is amazing what some people can read.

I've been struck recently by the amount of recoveries we are getting, here at the BTO from members of the public and ringers alike with the words "I read the ring number from some photos" or "I read the ring number on a bird, on my garden feeder". This in itself isn't big news but when we are talking about birds the size of Willow Warblers and Bearded Tits, the mind boggles.

As you have probably seen we have reported on ring-read Hawfinch, Red-necked Phalarope and Snow Bunting but a quick look on the database reveals many more species. There are small garden birds like Blackbird, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker but also Blue and Great Tits, Pied Wagtails and Brambling.

We have had three Golden Orioles, Scottish Crossbill, Twite, Little Ringed Plover and Water Rail for those more unusual species but people have taken the time to read the rings of Little Stint, Reed Warbler, Willow Tit, Bearded Tit, Yellow Wagtail and Bluethroat.

I remember speaking to Michael Welsh in July 09 with disbelief how he described spending hours by the river bank taking photos and the eventually reading the ring of a Kingfisher!

22 April 2010

Staff migration delayed - stopovers ensue!

So as to enjoy the ambiance of Greece, Dorian Moss, our database officer in the Demography Unit goes on holiday to Naxos in the Aegean. Unfortunately the ancient gods were not happy with him deserting the BTO, so while visiting the Temple of Demeter he heard that they had taken it out on hapless Iceland! The volcanic ash caused the pilots problems due to getting stuck in their engines - their vacuum cleaner bags weren't up to the task. This made Dorian's return migration flight into one more suited to a flightless rail!

View Dorian's migration in a larger map

Dorian started his journey on a ferry from Naxos to Athens, then a bus to Patras where he flagged down a passing ferry to Venice where he checked out the recently arrived Swifts. On arrival there all the gondolas bound for England were fully booked so Dorian managed to join 50 other would-be travellers on a coach trip across the Alps to Calais, logging up migrant blackcaps, swallows and chiffchaffs near Metz. Arriving in Calais the bus was checked over for 'illegals' and fortunately Dorian was allowed to stay aboard and get on the shuttle, so that he could dutifully report for work in Thetford just 3 days late.

20 April 2010

Coloured White Wagtails


We have just recevied a report of colour ringed White Wagtail X455756, which was seen at Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway on 12th April 2010. This bird was also ringed at Slapton, Devon on 9th Sept 2009 during the early stages of Icelandic passage through Devon.


With a total of 12 White Wagtails on a beach at Ballyconnell, Co. Sligo on the 11th of April things were looking good for this regular passage site. Amazingly one of these birds was colour ringed!

V923551 was ringed at Slapton, Devon on 12th Sept 2008 as an adult male! This bird had not been seen since it had been ringed but with a distance of about 568km it's interesting how far this bird has actually travelled.

Interestingly we have received 9 reports of Icelandic ringed White Wagtails in the UK. These have been found in different conditions, from being seen alive and well and others found dead. Other countries that we have received White Wagtails from include Belgium, France and Spain.

So the moral of the story is to get out there and find them. You can report all your sightings to www.ring.ac and find out where it has been.

Thanks to Declan Skehan for the photo and Seamus Feeney for both finding the bird. Also thanks to Michael Casey for letting me know about this bird.

If you are a ringer or nest recorder and have some interesting or unusual news, let me know (lee.barber@bto.org) and we can add it onto the Demog Blog.

13 April 2010

Lee's a hero with the chicks!

Early this morning in Thetford, as Lee Barber (BTO recoveries officer) was walking to work, he heard a distant, quiet tweeting from a nearby storm drain. Following the sound of these meek little calls, Lee discovered that two newly hatched Mallard ducklings had fallen down the drain!

Whilst taking their first steps towards the nearby river, these little ducklings had made the unfortunate mistake of walking over a storm grid and then accidentally falling between the grating!

Lee managed to lift the drain lid and 'fish out' the ducklings safe and sound. (Although he described this as being a particularly smelly job!). The little ducklings were soon reunited with their mum and other siblings who were by then swimming around on the river.

A happy ending all round!

12 April 2010

Hawfinch on the move

We get very few reports of ringed Hawfinch, probably due to their secretive nature, but we have just received reports that show they do indeed make some long distance movements.

At Stromness on Orkney, Ian Morrison and Kitty Halcrow were watching a Hawfinch at a bird table and saw that it was ringed! Amazingly they managed to read the ring number '8244367'. The address on the ring was too small to read but after some detective work found that this bird had been ringed in Oye, Kvinesdal, Norway on 8th July 2003 as a juvenile female!

The Forestry Commission have been operating several Hawfinch feeding stations in the Forest of Dean, where Jerry Lewis has been colour ringing since 2003. In that time he has ringed over 250, and although its still a bit early in the "Hawfinch catching season" he caught 11 birds on 24th March, including his first capture of a bird from Norway!

Previously, there have only been 2 foreign ringed Hawfinch found in UK, one
in Shetland from Germany and one on Fair Isle from Norway.

Many thanks to Jerry Lewis and Alan Leitch for letting us know about these amazing Hawfinch movements.

01 April 2010

Living the high life

Lee Barber at the BTO took a phone call from a Heathrow Airport Hotel saying they had a Robin in their coffee shop and could anyone assist in removing it? He then phoned me as I am a ringer and very familiar with this area.

I arranged to visit the hotel with the owners, who had already completed the paperwork. The ‘coffee shop’ turned out to be a ‘tropical atrium’ five storeys high, with swimming pool and plantings of palms, bananas and other trees up to 15m high – and a temperature of 18oC!

The bird was singing lustly whilst mist net and spring traps were set and after nearly three hours it was captured in a spring trap, ringed and released outside into a decidedly chilly 4oC. The bird had been there for several months since roof work had been done but had recently been disturbing functions with its singing as well as being percieved as a health hazard. The exercise resulted in a generous donation to the Bird Atlas appeal - and copious coffee and pastries were supplied.

Posted on behalf of Dave Harris with use of his photos.