Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project – 2009 Update

Another summer comes and goes and we ask yet again what happened to it! There were periods this year when I almost believed the met office’s prediction that it would be a ‘BBQ Summer’, but a hot, sunny day turned out to be nearly as rare as a Cornish cirl bunting. This was the fourth year of the project to reintroduce the species to the county, in a joint venture between the RSPB, Paignton Zoo, The National Trust and Natural England. Every autumn so far I have reported that wet weather has not helped the plight of these plucky little birds, despite the fact that released birds have been breeding on the Roseland Peninsula since 2007. This year the damp periods were sandwiched between a bright and warm April and May, and a slight resurgence of summer in September. The effect of this was a considerably more productive breeding season, as there was more invertebrate food available for the tireless parents to gather for their chicks. In fact, despite there being a similar number of breeding pairs to last year, the productivity went up three-fold, with around 50 young birds fledging from Cornish nests. Moreover, this year, females outnumbered males for the first time. This is an unusual situation for many species, and we were able to observe some instances of polygamy, which has rarely been recorded for this species before. One optimistic male tried his luck with three separate females, ensuring that he fathered more chicks than any of his peers.

Another cohort of chicks were translocated from Devon and reared in Cornwall. By the end of the season, 67 had been released into the Cornish countryside. When added to the young born in Cornish nests, the population had been boosted by over 100 young birds this year. Many of these will not survive their first winter, but in larger flocks, alongside more experienced birds, they stand a better chance than in previous years. RSPB staff and volunteers will continue to monitor these birds through winter, when they tend to move onto spring barley stubbles or patches of bird cover. Many of these areas have been put in place through the continued support from local farmers. Their knowledge and enthusiasm for farmland wildlife has ensured that a diverse range of flora and fauna will benefit from suitable management. Some farmers have now been offered financial support from Natural England for this work, and this will secure the future of cirl buntings in Cornwall.

We will shortly be deciding what the future holds for Cornish cirl buntings, as we go over the progress that has been made, and try to determine what we still need to do! The next year or two will be critical if the birds are to establish themselves for good. After a better breeding season this year, things are looking positive for the species. With the continued support of the local community, and a dedicated team of staff and volunteers keeping a close eye on things, I hope to be able to report even more success in future years for cirl buntings in Cornwall. Who knows, perhaps we’ll get a BBQ summer next year instead!

If anyone has any sightings, would like to commit to regular voluntary work (*see below), or simply wants more information, please feel free to contact me on 07702 779345 or at nick.tomalin@rspb.org.uk.
Nick Tomalin

RSPB Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project Officer

*In the RSPB volunteers are a major resource and make a vital contribution to the RSPB’s aims to take action for the conservation of wild birds and the environment. On a project like this we would need someone with good field identification skills and reasonable fitness who could commit to at least one day each fortnight, since it requires regular work to become familiar with the ring identification and the monitoring area. We also offer residential placements during winter. For more information see www.rspb.org.uk or contact Nick Tomalin – details above.

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