Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project Update 2010

2010 marked the fifth year of the Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project – a joint venture between the RSPB, Paignton Zoo, the National Trust and Natural England to re-establish the cirl bunting in Cornwall.

The year saw a steady, continued rise in the breeding population and thanks to the generally fine summer weather, most pairs pursued two, or even three breeding attempts. The result of all this activity was the production of at least 39 juveniles. Intensive monitoring of these breeding birds again revealed what complex lives they can lead with separations and re-pairings being not uncommon. Also, as in 2009, one particular male, who at over four years old is our oldest surviving bird, paired with just the two different females this year compared to last year’s three! His performance has become legendary in the cirl world and, no doubt, his productivity will be what all others will be compared with for a very long time to come. Long may he continue!

Another very good year of hand rearing saw 70 of the intake of 76 chicks from Devon survive to release. All sporting their assortment of uniquely colour-co-ordinated leg rings, several have already ventured some way beyond their release area to mix with their wild-bred relatives. In an attempt to reduce the impact that sparrowhawks have on the cirl bunting population, a few methods of non-lethal intervention were trialled this year. Central to this was a technique of providing supplementary food, in the form of commercially-reared dead quails, to the local pair of breeding sparrowhawks. Similar methods have been used in similar scenarios with great success, for example with kestrels that jeopardise breeding success at little tern colonies in the east of England. Initial results suggest that this action may have led to increased survivorship within the released population. Continued monitoring from project staff and volunteers will, hopefully, determine if this is indeed the case.

As the winter progresses it is likely that the cirls will continue to disperse further afield seeking out their favoured foraging habitat of over-wintered, weed-rich stubbles and bird-seed mix crops. Many of these areas have been put in place through the continued support from local farmers. Their continued involvement with the project has safeguarded large areas of farmland habitat for wildlife. Over 700 hectares of land near the release site is now managed under the new Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, where the farmers receive financial support from Natural England for environmentally sensitive practices. This will secure the future of cirl buntings in Cornwall.

As it becomes clearer over the coming months just how well the birds are doing, the decision will be made whether or not to extend the release programme into 2011, but the team will remain on the ground to monitor the situation closely. Providing the winter is not too severe, it is hoped that the majority of the birds from this year will make it through to breed next spring and summer. We are, as always, indebted to the help and support we receive from the local community and the dedicated team of volunteers who keep a close eye on the birds throughout the year.

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 07736 792524 or at stuart.croft@rspb.org.uk
Stuart Croft

RSPB Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project Field 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 Stuart Croft – details above.

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