Cambridgeshire study shows extreme weather affects birds who breed in woodland more than those in cities

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RSPB - Credit: Archant

Birds breeding in British woodland are more susceptible to the effects of extreme weather than those in cities, experts have claimed.

Breeding patterns of blue tits and great tits at three sites in Cambridgeshire were examined over a 10-year period by scientists at Anglia Ruskin University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The study, which is published in scientific journal PLOS ONE, compared 2012 – a year with significantly lower than average temperatures – to the previous nine years.

It was found urban birds cope better during unusually cold and wet weather because they are less reliant on feeding their chicks a single food source.

Of the three sites monitored, the birds at Brampton Wood nature reserve struggled most during 2012, the wettest year in England since records began in 1910.


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The other sites surveyed were the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens in Cambridge city centre and Cow Lane nature reserve, a mixed zone of willows and reed beds close to the banks of the Great Ouse.

Dr Nancy Harrison, senior lecturer in Life Sciences at Anglia Ruskin, said: “The birds breeding in the good woodland habitat really struggled during last year’s cold, rainy spring.

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“Blue tits and great tits in urban areas often forage for other prey and so are less reliant on one particular food source.

“These ‘urban scavengers’ were better able to cope in 2012 when these caterpillars were in short supply.

“Over the 10-year period of the study, birds living in the traditional woodland habitat fared significantly better and produced larger and healthier broods than their city cousins.

“However, if these extreme weather events become more commonplace due to the effects of climate change, then birds living in urban environments may have the advantage.”

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