What a difference a year makes; early nesting in 2014

01 Apr 2014 | No. 2014-20

Birds attempting to breed during the spring of 2013 were faced with freezing conditions as March temperatures plummeted way below the national average. The situation in 2014 couldn’t be more different and the birds’ responses, as monitored by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Nest Box Challenge volunteers, reflect this. 

The BTO is calling on householders across the UK to help them track the progress of nesting birds in gardens during 2014 by getting involved in this year’s Nest Box Challenge. Gardens provide both food and nest sites for birds, and an increasing number of species are choosing to raise their offspring in our backyards. Recent analyses of BTO data suggest that over a third of UK Blackbirds now nest around human habitation, favouring thick hedges and shrubs, while over a fifth of the nation’s Blue Tits breed in our villages, towns and cities.

Temperatures during the spring of 2013 fell to levels not witnessed since the early 1960s and birds responded by delaying breeding for several weeks. “Blue and Great Tits effectively turned the clock back 50 years in 2013, producing their eggs a fortnight later than they have over the last decade,” explains Senior Research Ecologist Dave Leech. “The number of chicks raised fell slightly as females struggled to produce eggs in cold conditions.”

Birds nesting in 2014 face very different conditions. ”People will remember the winter of 2013/14 as the wettest in the UK since 1910, but it has also been one of the warmest, with temperatures since November well above the average”, notes Hazel Evans, Nest Box Challenge Organiser. “Research using BTO data collected over the past 50 years has shown that birds breed earlier in warmer years and feedback suggests that this is exactly what our volunteers are observing in 2014. We’ve already had reports of species such as Long-eared Owl, Stock Dove, Starling and Great Tit laying much earlier than in a typical year.”

Nest Box Challenge participants can help us monitor birds’ responses to the warm spring by collecting very simple information about the number of eggs and chicks in any nests that they find in their gardens and inputting it on the BTO website”, continues Hazel. “If you have a nest box in your garden, have a look inside as soon as possible to see if there is any sign of nesting, taking care to follow the BTO Code of Conduct.”

Originally NBC focused on birds breeding in nest boxes but it has since been expanded to incorporate open-nesting species such as Blackbirds and Chaffinches, so now even the Collared Dove nesting on your satellite dish can be recorded! Nest Box Challenge provides the perfect opportunity for you to learn more about nesting birds and make your own contribution to science in the process.

Notes for Editors

  1. 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. www.bto.org
  2. Participants follow a special Code of Conduct to ensure nesting attempts are not put at risk. Originally the project focused on nests in boxes, but it has since been expanded to incorporate all nests in gardens, including the Collared Dove nest on your satellite dish!
  3. Nest Box Challenge is organised by the BTO. The project was launched in 2007, in conjunction with the BBC - join the nest monitoring community by registering today! http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc
  4. Nest Box Challenge 2013 results can be found at http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/nbc/results/2013-season

Contact Details

Hazel Evans
(BTO Nest Box Challenge Organiser)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: nbc [at] bto.org

Dr Dave Leech
(BTO Senior Ecologist)

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

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

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

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact  images [at] bto.org quoting reference 2014-20

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

Related content