Summer returned in 2014, but our migrant birds didn't

01 Dec 2014 | No. 2014-67

The warm, settled weather that graced Britain & Ireland in the spring and summer of 2014 resulted in a bumper bird breeding season. Information collected by British Trust for Ornithology volunteers shows that although not all of our summer migrants returned to take advantage of the conditions, those that did were generally successful in rearing the next generation. 

After deluges in 2012 and freezing temperatures in spring 2013, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) volunteers awaited the start of the 2014 breeding season with a little trepidation about what the British weather would throw at them this year. In the end, apart from a short visit from ex-Hurricane Bertha in August, the answer was warm, dry and settled weather for most of the spring and summer. So it was with suncream and hats for company that hundreds of survey participants took part in the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) and Constant Effort Site (CES) ringing scheme in 2014.

The latest results from these BTO surveys suggest that after a washout in 2012 and a truncated breeding season in 2013, birds took advantage of the conditions to bounce back this year. Carl Barimore, NRS Organiser, noted that "This season was a real contrast to 2013’s cold start with the fine spring weather encouraging many species to begin laying their eggs 1-2 weeks earlier than average. As the warm weather continued into summer, many songbirds produced above average numbers of young. Voles were also abundant, and species like Tawny Owl, Barn Owl and Kestrel that depend on them all had the most productive season on record, producing between 20% and 40% more young than average."

Results from CES are also indicative of a productive season for both migrants and resident birds. Less encouraging is the news that fewer birds were around to breed this year as Ruth Walker, CES Organiser explains "Unfortunately our long-distant migrant species are still struggling, possibly due to conditions on their sub-Saharan wintering grounds. CES ringers recorded the lowest numbers of Willow Warbler and Sedge Warbler since CES began in 1983 and numbers of Whitethroat and Reed Warbler were also significantly down this year. Some of our resident species are also struggling, probably due to low breeding success in recent years. Wren and Robin both appeared to take advantage of the mild winter, however, as their numbers were significantly higher this year."

So, will this year’s breeding success lead to there being more birds next season? That isn’t an easy question to answer according to Dave Leech, a Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO. "The fate of our migrant birds is dependent on more than just their breeding success. If the conditions on their wintering grounds are favourable then we’ll hopefully see a good number of this year’s young returning to breed next year. However, many long-distance migrants are in long-term decline, and we need to understand their ecology outside the UK as well as we do on the breeding grounds. Thanks to the satellite tracking work of the BTO and others, we’re developing a better picture of where to look.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The full set of 2014 preliminary results for the Nest Record Scheme (NRS) and Constant Effort Site ringing surveys can be found at and respectively. 
  2. Under the BTO/JNCC Nest Record Scheme (NRS -, established in 1939, volunteer nest recorders gather vital information on the productivity of the UK’s birds, using simple, standardised techniques. Over 40,000 records, each detailing the contents of individual nests, are currently submitted each year, allowing long-term trends in breeding success to be produced for over 70 species.
  3. The Nest Record Scheme is funded by a partnership of the BTO and the JNCC (on behalf of: Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage).
  4. The BTO/JNCC Constant Effort Sites (CES – scheme is the first national standardised ringing programme within the BTO Ringing Scheme and has been running since 1983. Volunteer ringers operate the same nets in the same locations over the same time period at regular intervals through the breeding season at  over 130 sites throughout Britain and Ireland. The Scheme provides valuable trend information on abundance of adults and juveniles, productivity and also adult survival rates for 24 species of common songbird.
  5. The Constant Effort Sites scheme is funded by a partnership of the BTO, the JNCC (on behalf of: Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage), The National Parks and Wildlife Service (Ireland) and the ringers themselves.
  6. NRS and CES data are analysed annually and the results are published in the BirdTrends Report ( along with information on species’ abundance obtained through other BTO monitoring schemes.
  7. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.
  8. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the statutory adviser to the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK and international nature conservation. Its work contributes to maintaining and enriching biological diversity, conserving geological features and sustaining natural systems.

Contact Details

Dr Dave Leech
(BTO Senior Ecologist)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: dave.leech [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

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