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Funders: Woodland Trust, Natural England

Summary: We know spring temperature plays an important role in determining the timing of breeding of insectivorous woodland birds; invertebrate emergence and availability is strongly linked to spring temperature. This project is creating a fine scale temperature map of East Dartmoor NNR so we can examine this in more detail. We might expect warmer territories to be occupied first, and to initiate breeding earlier. The temperature data will also contribute to a Heritage Lottery Project on Barbastelle bats; the temperature data will be combined with radio tracking movement data to look at how temperature influences foraging behaviour.

Partners: University of Exeter, University of Edinburgh, British Trust for Ornithology, Ken Smith

Summary: Some animals can adapt to climatic change by altering timing of spring migration or emergence and the onset of breeding. In some species this has been shown to cause a mismatch between predators and prey, when phenological changes differ between species. Such a mismatch is thought to contribute to the 40% decline in UK Pied Flycatcher populations observed since 1990. Using national scale data we are investigating spatial variation in caterpillar availability (prey) and bird (predator) breeding parameters in relation to climate and its population consequences.

Partners: University of Exeter, British Trust for Ornithology, University of Groningen

Funders: Natural England, Devon Birds, British Ornithological Union

Summary: Using new technology (geolocators) we are determining migration timing, routes, strategies, stopover locations and sub-Saharan wintering locations of UK breeding pied flycatchers. We hope to gain insights into how, where and when pied flycatchers migrate through Europe and Africa as a fundamental gap in our knowledge is quantifying timing of spring migration and arrival date to breeding grounds by individual birds, the influence of climate on this, and potential carry-over effects from wintering locations and migratory stop-over sites.

Measuring insect poo to help investigate the impacts of climate change on woodland birds.

As I mentioned in my last blog, the breeding success of hole-nesting woodland birds such as Blue Tits and Pied Flycatchers is thought to be dependent on the short seasonal spike in availability of caterpillar prey. These bird species usually have one nest attempt each year and so need to correctly time breeding to ensure that when their young are hungriest (when they are about 10 days old) enough food is available for them. Heavier fledglings are more likely to survive to become breeding birds themselves. Although these birds are able to adjust slightly, by delaying incubation after clutch completion for example, just a few days too late, or too early, can make the difference between brood death and survival.

Monitoring birds' timing of breeding and nest outcome is relatively easy, especially in nest box populations like I am involved with. Regular box inspections enable accurate calculation of when first eggs are laid, clutch size, the condition of nestlings at fledging and the number that fledge. Across the UK many thousands of nests in boxes are monitored annually. Monitoring invertebrates is less easy and relatively few people do this, and fewer still do so alongside detailed studies of breeding birds. But it is possible to estimate how invertebrate abundance changes during the breeding season using pretty simple techniques. The project I am involved in, with Ken Smith (now retired form the RSPB) and the universities of Edinburgh and Exeter, is interested in invertebrate abundance and how this changes during the course of spring, and how availability and timing varies spatially across the UK and between years. To achieve this we are encouraging citizen scientists who already monitor woodland breeding birds to additionally monitor invertebrates. Linking bird and invertebrate data gets 'bird people' thinking beyond just birds and participating and contributing to very worthwhile and important research. ...continue reading "Woodland birds response to climatic change: part 2"

The RSPB is investigating the impacts of climate change on the breeding success of woodland birds including the declining Pied Flycatcher.

Pied Flycatcher - Neil BygraveThe onset of spring is getting earlier. Understanding the effects of this on woodland phenology and on the breeding success of woodland birds is being investigated across northern Europe, including in the UK.

We know that our climate is rapidly changing, whatever its cause might be. One consequence of a changing climate, throughout northern Europe, is that the onset of spring has advanced - spring conditions occur earlier now than it did only a few decades ago. Spring is a very important time for many birds, plants and animals. Deciduous trees and many annual plants need to make the most of the short growing season and a huge variety of insects emerges that eats this new growth. Most birds breed in spring to take advantage of the super abundance of insect food available at this time. So how are they adapting to a changing spring? ...continue reading "Woodland birds’ response to climatic change"

Partner: University of Exeter

Funder: Natural England

Summary: Changes in both woodland management practices and climate are implicated in observed population changes of many European woodland birds. The importance of woodland management and how this affects bird demographics is poorly understood. Using data from one long running nest box scheme (Yarner Wood) we investigate effects of woodland thinning and local weather on nest site occupation and breeding parameters for four hole-nesting birds; Blue Tit, Great Tit, Common Redstart and Pied Flycatcher.

Output: Burgess, M. D. (2014) Restoring abandoned coppice for birds: Few effects of conservation management on occupancy, fecundity and productivity of hole nesting birds. Forest Ecology and Management 330: 205-217