Climate change driving Scottish birds to the brink

Slavonian grebe crop

New RSPB report says climate change could spell doom for rare breeding birds but others could prosper

Graham Martin's photo

5th December 2017 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Climate change is having a devastating impact on some of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds.

Many are facing extinction in this country – including the Scottish crossbill (pictured below right) which is found nowhere else in the world.

Other species at risk include the dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter, snow bunting and slavonian grebe (pictured above) whose UK breeding populations are found almost entirely in Scotland.

These species are being pushed north due to a warming climate as their habitats – northern mountains, uplands or wetlands – are put under increasing strain.

The threat is revealed in the RSPB’s State Of The UK’s Birds survey.

While some species are being pushed out, including the forest-breeding Scottish crossbill, which is the UK’s only unique bird species, some others are prospering as the climate warms.

Nuthatch, goldfinch and chiffchaff have been expanding their range into Scotland over the last 30 years with large increases in the number of these birds breeding here.

Scottish crossbill

Scottish crossbill

Some birds are becoming increasingly vulnerable to UK extinction, including many species where most of the breeding population is found in Scotland

While the UK cuckoo population has declined by 43% between 1995 and 2015, over the same period numbers in Scotland have increased by a third. Similar patterns have also been noted in numbers of willow warbler, house martins and tree pipits.

Dr David Douglas, principal conservation scientist at RSPB Scotland, said: “The recent research compiled in this year’s The State of the UK’s Birds report shows that many birds in Scotland are being affected by a changing climate.

“For some birds this means they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to UK extinction, including many species where most, if not all, of the breeding population is found in Scotland.

“Other birds appear to have thrived in this warmer, wetter climate, which has allowed them to expand their range further north. Some species which were previously unusual visitors to Scotland now breed here in considerable numbers.”

One of the most compelling revelations is how birds have adapted their behaviour in response to warming temperatures.

One of our most familiar summer visitors, the swallow, which migrates to and from southern Africa each year, is arriving back in the in the UK 15 days earlier and breeding 11 days earlier than it did in the 1960s.

Swallows and other migratory birds, such as garden warblers and whitethroats are also delaying their return migration each autumn and so some species are now spending up to four weeks longer in the UK each year.

But it isn’t only our migrant birds that are changing their behaviour.

One of our most familiar resident garden birds, the great tit, is also laying its eggs 11 days earlier than 40 years ago.

These are obvious and major changes that show that even our common wildlife is already being affected by climate change.