UK now a winter destination for Mediterranean birds - British Trust for Ornithology

Female blackcap (small brown bird with pale chest, dark almost blakc eyes and a russet brown cap) perched on a bare branch
Female Blackcap photo by Liz Cutting

Most of the birds that flock to our shores in winter are leaving behind inhospitable conditions in Scandinavia and eastern Europe, not the balmy climes of the Mediterranean. However, research now shows that many of the UK’s growing number of overwintering Blackcaps breed in just the sort of places chilly Brits might visit for a bit of winter sun. Scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) want people to help them understand more about this surprising phenomenon.

Blackcaps are Robin-sized birds that historically migrated to the UK in spring from southern Europe and returned there after the breeding season. In recent years, more and more Blackcaps have been spending the winter in the UK, where they can often be found at garden feeders. These wintering birds represent a different population to our breeding Blackcaps, however, and migrate to the UK from a range of countries, from Spain in the west to Poland in the east.

The discovery was made by scientists from the BTO, Oxford University and the Max Planck Institute in Munich. Over four years, volunteers fitted 600 Blackcaps wintering in the UK with unique colour combinations of easily-identified leg rings, allowing researchers to track sightings of the birds as they returned to their breeding grounds. An additional 30 Blackcaps were fitted with tiny tracking devices that gave more detailed information about the birds’ routes.

Although the reasons for this northwards migration are not well understood, other work by BTO scientists suggests that warmer winter weather in the UK and widespread garden bird feeding may be helping these birds to survive.

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Posted On: 03/01/2023

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