Declining summer visitor doing well in Scotland

26 Apr 2018 | No. 2018-12

In England the Spotted Flycatcher population has fallen by 18%, however, the latest results show that this enchanting little bird is on the up in Scotland – up by 66% during the last five years, giving Scotland something to shout about!

Reasons behind the overall decline, which amounts to 39% across the whole of the UK since 1994 are unclear. Declines in large flying insects that are food for flycatchers, or conditions along migration routes, or wintering areas of West Africa, have been suggested.

The BBS is a fantastic example of a citizen science project. We are delighted that coverage reached an all-time high in 2017 in Scotland, though there are still squares available for skilled volunteers, able to identify bird species by sight and sound, to get involved.

2017 is the first year that scientists have been able to produce a trend for Spotted Flycatcher in Scotland and this is only possible due to a combination of the increase in volunteers taking part in the BBS and more Spotted Flycatchers being seen or detected in recent years. In all, the report provides trends for 69 species of birds that breed in Scotland and they show a mixed bag. Since 2011 Chiffchaff (+72%), and Cuckoo (+32%) have shown increases, whilst the Greenfinch (-50%) and Curlew (-16%) both declined.

Sarah Harris, BBS Organiser at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), said, “When we saw that Spotted Flycatcher was on the up in Scotland we were really pleased, they have been having a tough time of recent, but to see the large increase in Scotland is really exciting, it gives hope to this brilliant bird. It is all thanks to the 347 BBS surveyors who go out and collect the bird data for 519 sites during the summer months that we know how Scotland’s breeding birds are doing; we owe them our deepest thanks.”

Professor Jeremy Wilson, Head of Conservation Science for RSPB Scotland said“Across the UK, many birds which nest here but migrate to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa are in overall decline. However, in Scotland, several of the species, including the Spotted Flycatcher, Cuckoo, House Martin and Willow Warbler are on the increase.   We need to understand more about the threats these birds face, and what lies behind patterns of changes that include welcome increases in Scotland but continuing losses in England.”

The BBS is a partnership between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and reports annually on how Britain’s breeding birds are faring.

Contact Details

Sarah Harris
(Breeding Bird Survey Organiser, BTO)
Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: sarah.harris [at] (subject: Declining%20summer%20visitor%20doing%20well%20in%20Scotland)

Ben Darvill
(BTO Scotland)
Office: 01786 466562
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: ben.darvill [at] (subject: Declining%20summer%20visitor%20doing%20well%20in%20Scotland)
Mike Toms
(BTO Head of Communications)
Office: 01842 750050
(Mon-Thurs 9am to 5.30pm) (Fri 9am to 5pm)
Email: press [at] (subject: Declining%20summer%20visitor%20doing%20well%20in%20Scotland)

Images are available for use alongside this News Release. Please contact images [at] (subject: 2018-12)  quoting reference April 2018-12
The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews. Please contact us to book an interview Office: 01842 750050

Notes for Editors

Population trends for 69 bird species in Scotland have been calculated in the latest BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) annual report. BBS is the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds.

In 2017, 519 BBS squares were covered in Scotland by volunteers.

The latest report can be found here

The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Partnership: The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey is a partnership jointly funded by the BTO, RSPB and JNCC, with fieldwork conducted by volunteers.

The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a UK-wide project aimed at keeping track of changes in the breeding populations of widespread bird species. The BBS involves around 2,800 participants who survey more than 3,900 sites across the UK, enabling us to monitor the population changes of 117 bird species. Knowing to what extent bird populations are increasing or decreasing is fundamental to bird conservation.

This important survey is carried out by volunteer birdwatchers throughout the UK, who receive no financial reward or expenses for their efforts. We are indebted to them for their tremendous support.

The BTO is the UK's leading bird research organisation. Up to 60,000 birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys. They collect information that forms the basis of 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 project work. The BTO's investigations are funded by government, industry and conservation organisations.

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