Review of the year - 2016

Well what a year that was! For birdwatchers, 2016 will be remembered as a year of extraordinary proportions with rare birds aplenty! What will you remember about 2016 - will it be the Peregrine on the Erskine Bridge traffic camera or the Snowy Owl making an appearance on that traffic camera in Toronto? Perhaps those extraordinary photos of a Wren feeding a Cuckoo chick stick in your mind, or the astonishing tale of Beijing's Cuckoos migrating to Africa. Whatever your Birding Moment of 2016, thanks for supporting our work and sharing your stories with us, here's a brief summary of some of our highlights of the year.

GPS-tagged Lesser Black-backed Gull

Risk to seabirds of collisions with wind turbines

Offshore wind farms are now operational or under construction in many areas, but in addition to generating energy, spinning turbine blades represent a potential threat to birds, which can be injured or killed if they collide with them. In order to understand the extent of this threat, we need accurate measurements of the height at which seabirds fly. Our latest research used a combination of GPS-tracking and advanced statistics to provide new insights into the flight heights of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Great Skuas by night and day. This study gives important information on the risk to seabirds of collisions with offshore wind turbines at a time when governments worldwide are investing in marine renewables such as wind farms.

Summer migrants stay for longer as the UK warms

Data collected by volunteer citizen scientists have been used to show how the timing of bird migration to and from the UK has changed since the 1960s. The spring arrival dates for 11 of 14 common migrants have got significantly earlier, with six species, including Swallow, House Martin and Chiffchaff, coming back to breed more than 10 days earlier than they used to. Species that advanced their timing of arrival also showed the most positive trends in abundance over this period.

Get your BTO on!

We've teamed up with Teemill to offer a range of organic cotton clothing and accessories, proceeds of which go tofunding our research. All our t-shirts, tops, sweatshirts and tote bags are printed in the UK on premium quality 100% organic cotton made in an ethically accredited wind-powered factory. We'll be adding new designs to the range, but in the meantime you can choose from t-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts featuring Cuckoo, House Martin, Curlew, and Kingfisher as well as other smart new designs. Visit the shop page to get your BTO branded products today.

Surveyors of the future

Young BTO member and volunteer Gethin Jenkins-Jones did his first solo Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) this year. He's lucky to have been allocated a survey square in a South Wales valley where he encountered the classic Welsh Oakwood trio of Pied Flycatcher, Redstart and Wood Warbler - what a square! If you've wondered what taking part in BBS is like, read about Gethin's experience on our Young Birders Blog.

Goldfinch. Photography by John Harding

Want to attract Goldfinches? Sunflower hearts are the answer!

Between November 2015 and February 2016 an amazing 5,183 households across Britain and Ireland took part in our Goldfinch Feeding Survey to help determine what it is about our gardens that Goldfinches are attracted to. A preliminary analysis of the data shows that sunflower hearts were overwhelmingly the preferred option, with nyger seed coming second. Natural foods were also taken with teasel and thistle the favourites. Thank you to everyone who took part!

Across continents, birds respond to changing climate

New research involving the BTO shows how bird populations are consistently responding to the effects of climate change on two continents. The study, led by the University of Durham, analysed data on abundance collected between 1980 and 2010 from 145 common species in Europe, and 380 in North America. UK data includes records collected by volunteers taking part in the Breeding Bird Survey and its predecessor the Common Birds Census, both coordinated by the BTO.

Cuckoo tracking hits the big time

When we began our ground-breaking Cuckoo tracking research in 2011, we had very little idea where Cuckoos spent the winter or how they got there. Our new paper in the high profile journal Nature Communications reveals not only this but also shows that Cuckoos’ autumn migration routes help explain population declines. Birds migrating south on the western route, through Spain, were more likely to die than those migrating via the eastern route, through Italy. This work underlines the need for a full annual-cycle approach tounderstanding migratory birds and their conservation needs.

BTO Bird Camp 2016

Thanks to generous support from the Cameron Bespolka Trust, we hosted 20 young birdwatchers for a weekend of bird surveying, ringing, nest recording and causal birdwatching at The Nunnery in Thetford. The knowledge and commitment of the participants who were aged between 12 and 18 was incredible and you can get a flavour of the weekend from this round-up of social media posts.

Willow Warbler, photograph by Jill Pakenham

Why are Willow Warblers decreasing in the south, but not the north?

Populations of many species of migratory bird are declining in Britain. However, the picture is not equally gloomy across the country. Many species are doing much better in northern Britain than they are in the south. Recent research, led by Cat Morrison at the University of East Anglia in collaboration with BTO staff, has used BTO data to understand why this difference occurs.

Latest research: Willow Warbler sex

New BTO research shows a recent imbalance in Willow Warbler sex ratios, with 60% of adult birds being male. Male-biased sex ratios have been documented in a number of bird species, in particular those whose breeding populations are small or in decline. Various reasons have been proposed to explain why the sex ratio in a population should move away from one-to-one, with sex-related differences in mortality or dispersal behaviour two of the most likely. Understanding which of these factors are important, particularly in the context of why it is that small and/or declining populations show more strongly skewed sex ratios, has important implications for conservation.

Secrets of urban gulls revealed by GPS

A new study in the BTO journal Ringing & Migration and covered in the Guardian used GPS tracking to examine the behaviour of Herring Gulls nesting on rooftops in Cornwall. The results showed highly individual behaviour for the four birds tracked, none of which spent much time in the streets of the town. The four birds completed almost 2,300 trips and travelled nearly 20,000 miles during the 2014 breeding season.

Northern Wrens weather the winter better than southerners

New BTO research reveals that one of our most widespread songbirds – the Wren – varies in its resilience to winter weather, depending on where in Britain it lives. Scottish Wrens are larger than those living in southern Britain, and are more resilient to hard winter frosts.

Update to EuroBirdPortal

The EuroBirdPortal project, which began last year, collates bird records from European recording schemes, including BirdTrack. This combined dataset can be viewed through the demonstration viewer on the EuroBirdPortal website. Initially, distribution maps were available for 50 species across four years (2010—2013). In June, this exciting tool was further enhanced by the addition of data from 2014. 

Record autumn for Yellow-browed Warblers and Siberian Accentors

The first Yellow-browed Warbler of this autumn was reported on 13 September and the reporting rate reached just under 8% of complete lists in mid October. This is almost double that of the same period in 2015. Just under 5,000 observations of Yellow-browed Warbler were logged in BirdTrack up to the end of October, another record breaking total. The reason for the increase is still unknown, with reverse migration and range expansion among the potential factors. The tale of the year has to be the incredible influx of not one, not two, but 13 Siberian Accentors!!

Where do Marsh Tits draw the line?

Marsh Tits declined in Britain by 73% between 1966 and 2013. Two subspecies, Poecile palustris palustris and Poecile palustris dresseri, are designated in government biodiversity action plans, but it is not clear whether this distinction actually exists in British birds. BTO is part of a new collaborative study, led by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and published in our journal Bird Study, which examines the question of Marsh Tit subspecies using measurements of wing and tail length collected during bird ringing at 14 sites across Europe, including eight in Britain.

Understanding how waterbirds use the Severn

We've started a research project to understand more about how waders and ducks use the Severn Estuary. This work, funded by Tidal Lagoon Power, will provide high quality scientific information for the Environmental Impact Assessment for a proposed tidal power lagoon (Tidal Lagoon Cardiff), and will inform their conservation and biodiversity programme. As part of this programme of work, Redshank and Curlew have been colour-ringed and Dunlin and Shelduck marked with yellow dye. We need help with resighting colour-ringed and dye-marked birds from this study so if you spot any on the Severn or elsewhere, please let us know.

We're not standing still!

Our members' magazine, BTO News, has been through a makeover and has a brand new look that's sparked great feedback.Our editor, Viola, describes it as an evolution that she hopes will broaden its appeal and become a magazine you can't wait to receive each season.  

As part of the launch we are offering all non-members a free copy. To claim yours, simply email info [at] (subject: Please%20send%20me%20a%20copy%20of%20the%20new-look%20BTO%20News) and we will send you one.

We hope you enjoy it and if you do, and would like to receive your own copy regularly, then make sure to join the BTO as a member.