2012 – The avian annus horribilis

July 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

It’s now official.

The last three month period (April, May and June 2012) has been the wettest April, May and June period since records began (around 1910).

But you don’t need me to tell you that do you (don’t you bore of blogs and bloggers that tell the reader what the weather did yesterday where they were  and that’s about all).

You will know all to well (if you live anywhere in the UK other than the Hebrides) that after the warmest, driest March ever, the weather has pretty-well turned to dumping unrelenting sheets of water on us – and so it will continue into this weekend with more flooding predicted north of Birmingham.

You know all this of course – but do you realise what effect all this wet has had on our birds in the UK this year?

April, May and June are very important months for most of our feathered friends – the most important three months one could legitimately argue. It’s when the vast majority of our birds attempt to breed.

This year, for many of our birds, the entire 90 day breeding season has been rained off.

The BTO is getting reports of breeding birds failing everywhere –  tits, bunting, larks, chats, pipits, swifts, barn owls, reed warblers, kestrels and other raptors – Dr.Dave Leech (head of nest recording at BTO) has stated this has been the worst breeding season he has ever seen (he’s probably the most qualified man in the UK to make such a statement).

Dr.Leech studies a reed warbler colony in Norfolk and he has witnessed the adult birds try up to four times to build a nest and raise young – but each time the nest is blown down. “It’s never-ending” says Dr.Leech and “very depressing”.


What of my favourites – the swifts then?

Not good I’m afraid.

Bodies such as Swift Conservation are hearing many reports of failing nests (there are nowhere near enough nest sites anyway) with adult birds rejecting their own eggs from nests because there is not enough food in the skies to feed adults and young this year (this is recognised, documented behaviour in times of very wet, cold weather).

Adult swifts are being found wet and exhausted on the ground in numbers (swifts must keep airborne to feed and feed to keep airborne).

In some areas, swifts are missing entirely – and some seem to have started to head back home (to the Congo with the cuckoos) already – having given up this year it (at least) seems.

As regular readers of my stuff will know, Anna and I have moved away from our old pre-war house where I filmed and webcast breeding swifts for the past two years – I have no idea how that family is getting on this year, but I do hear from my old neighbours (who did see the swifts after Anna and I pointed them out whilst we were there) that they haven’t seen any swift activity this year.

I have no idea whether that’s because the swifts haven’t been as “obvious” in the sky around my old house before roosting (they’re just diving into the roof quickly to save energy) or they really aren’t there at all.

At our (Anna and myself) current location about ten miles from “Swift Half”, screamer swifts (non-breeding young swifts) have been very interested in my swift call CD since the middle of June it seemed (although I don’t think any found the entrance to my “Swift palace” in the attic) but I’ve not seen these half dozen birds for a few days now. Not heard them either. I wonder if they’ve also all just thought sod this for a game of soldiers – and set off back to Africa.


We have had something of a brief respite today (Thursday 5th July) though. A little sun and a lot of (sudden 26c) heat got me looking skywards during my lunch break – and I was delighted to see a few swifts zipping about in the sky, screaming to each other and making the practicing F18 Hornets (actual plane in image today) and “Patriots” over Farnborough (which admittedly are very exciting and noisy) look positively cumbersome in the heavy sky.

There are still swifts about of course, just not as many as I'd have liked to see during July and not as obvious!

All dreadfully depressing for Dr.Leech, me and many, many others in the UK who love our summers, love our birds and love our swifts.



Let’s just hope for our sakes that this broken bleeding jet stream fixes itself so we humans at least get a bit of a nicer late summer in August or September.


As for the birds – no such change will do them any favours this year – all we can hope for is 2013 is a little more kind to them –especially the beautiful swifts….







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