Bird ringing in a Pandemic year

In January 2020 along with most people corona virus did not feature much in daily life, and I was able to continue my hobby of bird ringing.  However as the months progressed it was obvious that it was coming our way and my visits to the estate halted on the 19th of March.  The official instruction from the British Trust for Ornithology was that all surveying and ringing outside our own gardens was to stop until further notice.
Eventually there was some relaxation of these rules as lockdown was eased, and surveying and ringing was classified under voluntary or charitable activities.  So after checking with the landowner and conforming to lockdown rules I was able to start again on the 17th of May.
As I had not been able to monitor my small nest boxes they were a priority to check.  Unfortunately the results were disappointing, it appeared there was a number not used, some predated and the others with chicks at various stages of growth.  Some that could be ringed safely, others ready to leave the nest.  However I did manage to ring young in five nest boxes.  My larger nest boxes were equally disappointing, no Barn Owls this year and Jackdaws had taken over the majority of the Barn owl boxes.  My trainee also was to suffer, as under social distancing it was not safe for him or me to ring together and he subsequently lost out on a year’s training.  The weather also was to impinge on my ringing, wind the mist netters nightmare was very evident in 2020.
The weather in the second quarter found April being the sunniest on record, May followed suit with cold nights to start, dry, windy at times, and the sunniest month ever recorded.  June was notable for its above average temperatures, and windy especially at the end.  This good weather you may think would had suited the breeding birds.  However when I did start mist netting it was noticeable that breeding bird numbers were lower this year across the board,  it was very noticeable in  species like Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and Treecreepers.  As lockdown had prevented me from accessing much of the estate to monitor numbers it was a surprise, considering how productive the previous year had been.  That these and other  species were absent in many areas and as to why is a mystery.  Totals of  new birds processed for this quarter showed a 36% drop on the previous year despite the same  ringing effort.

The third quarter of the year  featured an extremely hot and dry spell with strong winds at times.  An odd thunder storm, and with September ending  with gales and torrential rain.  However amongst all this I managed to pay 15 visits capturing and processing 490 new birds  of 28 species.  This of course is the time of the biggest movement of birds Young of all species are on the move, either starting their migration, or with resident species spreading out to find new territories.  Again comparing figures from the previous year there was a 21% reduction overall.

The final quarter is the time for winter migrants and the smaller birds tend to flock together moving through woods and hedgerows searching for food.  October was extremely wet, with blustery winds.  November alternating from cool periods to quite mild.  December was similar with a few frosts, wet at times, and the wind picking up around the Christmas period.  I had added another 236 new birds in this period giving a total of 1224 new birds for the year which was a 20% reduction on 2019.
 I have been conscious of the fact that I have been in a lucky position having a hobby I could continue throughout most of 2020.  Where others have been confined to their homes with very limited recreation options.  Ringing either as a group or on your own can be mentally stimulating and I would like to thank the estate for allowing me to continue in such a depressing year.  

2020 produced a number of local recoveries not moving very far but three other recoveries were notable.  A Blue Tit was ringed from a brood of ten occupying a nest box on the estate in May 2019.  Subsequently it was recaptured at Brandon Norfolk in February 2020, only to be caught again at Houghton Hall in March 2020.  Was this bird wintering at Brandon and returning to breed only overshooting to end up at Houghton Hall.  A Chiffchaff ringed at Coronation wood in August 2019 was caught and released at Zandvoort in the Netherlands in March 2020 evidently returning.  The last one concerns a Song Thrush I ringed at Crow Hall in October 2019 which was killed by a cat at Sagbakkon Nordland Norway in May 2020 travelling 1,683 km.

I would like to finish with a plea 
Over the last few years I have noticed a surge in house’s having their roofs repaired.  I know this has to be done more than once in a house’s life time as no roof remains watertight for ever.  However there is a negative aspect to this.  Three species of birds are made homeless, Swifts, Starlings and House Sparrows.  These are in general dependant on us to provide them with nesting sites, and under the tiles is ideal.  Modern roofing prevents them using these sites.  Now the populations of all these three species are declining at an alarming rate, in part to other factors, but depriving them of nest sites is a major cause.  Now I can hear some of you saying “hard cheese” they will have to find somewhere else to nest, but since humans have lived under a roof, birds have lived with us, using that roof.  It would an evolutionary change for this to alter and that will not happen overnight.  However we can do something about this.  With every major roof work the home owner could check what species uses his house and then the contractor could be asked to incorporate nest bricks or a box under the eaves in respect of Swifts.  For the other two species nest boxes can also be fixed under the eaves, all within the contract.  This would mean a small extra cost, but you would have a clear conscience that you will have done your bit to save a species for other generations.
Malcolm Turner.