Spring and early summer provide amateur and professional birdwatchers alike with the treat of flocks of migrant birds arriving in Britain from Africa. Their numbers reach hundreds of thousands as they come here in search of favourable breeding conditions, only to return to their wintering grounds in the autumn. The long coastline of Britain and the northern latitudes with long daylight hours in the summertime provide the ideal environment for nest building and foraging for food for their young.
many species return to the same favourite location every year
Many familiar birds that traditionally signal the beginning of summer are migrants, such as the warblers that have performed an amazing and hazardous feat of travelling thousands of miles in just a few days with a non-stop flight. Some birds, such as swallows, take their time and fuel regularly over a travel time of several weeks, and many species return to the same favourite location every year to breed.
Migrant species whose behaviour or song is particularly associated with summer outings include cuckoos, swifts and nightingales. The swift, a masterful flier that even sleeps on the wing, is one of the briefest visitors, staying here only from early May to July, whereas many others do not make their return trip until September or October. It only lands to nest, and bears a close resemblance to swallows and house martins. Like the swift, swallows are agile fliers, and can be frequently seen in their favourite habitats of open country side close to sources of water. The house martins are widespread and best known for constructing their mud nests on buildings, whereas the secretive nightingale’s beautiful song can these days be heard mainly in the South-East, although there are some breeding nightingales in Dorset.
Well known and well-loved as these migratory birds are, many are declining alarmingly in numbers, and similar trends have been reported by other European countries as well.
Swifts, turtle doves and nightingales seem to be particularly threatened
Since the mid-nineties, the populations of turtle doves, wood warblers and nightingales have dropped by more than 50 per cent, and cuckoo numbers have almost halved as well. Swifts, turtle doves and nightingales seem to be particularly threatened with more significant losses recently, and others under major threat of decline include pied flycatcher and yellow wagtail. The reasons for the rapid loss in numbers are unclear, as the birds face various threats, from illegal hunting along their long journey to habitat loss in their wintering and breeding grounds, as well as decline in some main food sources. Work is in progress to understand the causes of the problems, for example radio tagging of migrating cuckoos by the British Trust for Ornithology.
To help with conservation of swifts, please report your sightings this summer please click here.
Notes to Editor
About Dorset Wildlife Trust www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk
Working for a secure future for Dorset’s wildlife enriching the quality of life
Dorset Wildlife Trust is part of the Natural Weymouth and Portland Partnership; connecting people with nature
Dorset Wildlife Trust works to champion wildlife and natural places, to engage and inspire people and to promote sustainable living. Founded in 1961, DWT is now the largest voluntary nature conservation organisation in Dorset, with over 25,000 members and over 40 nature reserves. Most are open daily and there are visitor centres providing a wealth of wildlife information at Brooklands Farm, Lorton Meadows, Kingcombe Meadows and Brownsea Island Nature Reserves, The Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve and the Urban Wildlife Centre at Upton Heath Nature Reserve. DWT plays a key role in dealing with local environmental issues and leads the way in establishing the practices of sustainable development and engaging new audiences in conservation, particularly in the urban areas.
2 swifts in nest - Dorset Wildlife Trust
Nightjar - R Harding