Keeping a weather eye on arrivals

PUBLISHED: 12:26 05 January 2007 | UPDATED: 22:28 28 May 2010

IT SEEMS as if large numbers of birds are staying on the continent instead of making the crossing to Britain for winter. This winter has so far provided plenty of evidence of this. The milder winters we are having are also being felt in mainland Europe. T

IT SEEMS as if large numbers of birds are staying on the continent instead of making the crossing to Britain for winter. This winter has so far provided plenty of evidence of this.

The milder winters we are having are also being felt in mainland Europe. The reason we get influxes of large numbers of birds, such as ducks, geese and swans, is because they are effectively "frozen out" from their wintering grounds there and come west to Britain where food is both more easily accessible and more plentiful.

This often happens as the winter goes on and it is traditionally after the turn of the New Year when the numbers begin to swell.

All kinds of birds are in shorter supply than usual this winter and the mild weather is the cause. The birds are still in existence, they are just spending their winters a few hundred miles away!

Counts of classic hard weather species such as smew, bean geese and bitterns are well down, with even regular sites hosting to just small numbers. The fact that bitterns are not even present at several regular Fenland sites virtually provides the proof that our wintering birds come from Holland and beyond rather than being British breeders that have just moved location for winter.

It may seem initially worrying when you hear of fewer birds, but there really is no need to worry in this case. In fact, if the birds don't have to risk taking a sea crossing and using up valuable energy to fly here, then it may well be good for their well-being.

The better condition that birds are in at the end of winter means they have a much better chance of breeding successfully. Fitter birds are more attractive to potential mates and are likely to be more successful in defending a breeding territory. This is particularly important for female birds, the potential mothers of the future, too. A larger brood size is a by-product of a healthier female.

While I was out and about on some days over Christmas, I likened the weather to being more typical of that of early March days.

It felt almost warm and, with a mild south-westerly airflow, I was almost tempted into thinking that I should be looking out for the first arrivals of springtime migrants.

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