According to a recent report by conservation groups, British songbird numbers have fallen by 44 million, compared to numbers that were documented in 1966. The study, which was compiled from volunteers’ observations of birds since the 1960s, is the first of its kind to report on how certain species of songbirds have coped over recent decades.
The survey, called State of the UK’s Birds 2012, found that some species of birds had declined dramatically, such as bullfinch, blackbird and yellowhammer. The worst affected species has been the house sparrow.
Songbirds belong to the clade of perching birds. They are aptly named due to the vocal organ which produces an elaborate song specifically for territorial marking and mating.
The birds’ numbers were recorded to be down by an estimated 20 million since 1966. However, since 2000, reports have shown that a positive increase has occurred in the number of sparrows.
Causes of the decrease in songbird numbers over the last 40 years have been vaguely directed towards the increase in birds and mammals, specifically magpies and grey squirrels, which prey on songbirds’ eggs. The rise in numbers of preying animal encouraged conservationists to call for a cull of songbird predators such as magpies.
However, the study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology ends a long-standing controversy to cull predators in order to protect songbirds, as it found no link between the increase in predators and the decrease of songbirds.
Experts believe that birds that traditionally rely on farmland, such as lapwings, cuckoos and turtledoves, have decreased in numbers due to changes in the landscape, providing fewer habitats for birds to nest.
RSPB spokesman, Grahame Madge says: “What we’re seeing at the moment is a huge interest from famers in trying to help the wildlife on their land.”
The RSPB reports that there are around 166 million birds now nesting in the UK, as opposed to the much higher number of 210 million that nested in 1966.
“We have more species breeding in the UK now than any other time in history, but we’ve got 44 million fewer individual birds nesting than in the 1960’s,”says Mr Madge.
The survey also recorded significant increases of some birds over the last four decades, wood pigeon and the great spotted woodpecker. The wood pigeon has doubled in population since 1970, and now stands at an impressive 5.4 million nesting pairs. The great spotted woodpecker’s numbers have increased by 368 per cent since 1970.
Despite the success stories of the wood pigeon and great spotted woodpecker, the overall results of the State of the UK’s Birds 2012 report represent the enormity of the songbirds’ decline.