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Autumn bird migration news 12 August 2011

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Nick Moran & Paul Stancliffe (BTO) Nick Moran & Paul Stancliffe (BTO) | 15:27 UK time, Friday, 12 August 2011

willow warbler copyright Ron Marshall/BTO

Willow warblers are on the move © Ron Marshall/BTO

Our birds are already on the move.

For those following our five satellite tagged cuckoos this will come as no surprise, with four of them already south of the Sahara desert. However, lots of other birds are also leaving the UK, probably the most noticeable being the swift. All summer they have been screaming around our streets and houses but have disappeared during the last week. Many of these could already be well south of the Sahara and close to their winter quarters.

Willow warblers have also been flooding out of the country with more than 100 birds being counted at some south coast migration watchpoints; these have often been in the company of smaller numbers of common whitethroats.

Another warbler, the grasshopper warbler, probably sneaks out of the country largely unnoticed but at one ringing site in Hampshire, 267 have been trapped and ringed during July alone, all but one of them being young birds.


Now is a good time to catch sight of ospreys © Jill Packenham/BTO

Ospreys are also on the move, and now is a good time to catch up with one of these impressive raptors. Although they often still associate with waterbodies, a bird on active migration could be seen anywhere as it makes it way south. During the last week, ospreys have been seen in 24 British and Irish counties. [Autumnwatch will be following the migration of a new brood of osprey chicks this autumn.]

Question of the week: Why do birds migrate?

A very difficult question. To answer this we probably have to look back to the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. At this time, large parts of northern Europe were under ice, which will have retreated north during the summer months only to return during the colder winter months. As the ice retreated north, uncovered habitat will have been exploited by birds from further south that themselves have retreated south as the colder months returned.

As the planet warmed and the southern edge of the ice retreated further and further north, birds will have moved further north during the summer months and flown greater distances back during the winter months; migrating. Today, the conditions during the winter months are still unsuitable for many of our summer migrants, although we are seeing evidence of more species attempting and succeeding to stay in northern Europe during the winter months.

In recent times, several species of warblers, swallows and a few turtle doves have all been recorded in the UK during the winter. These pioneers stay much closer to their breeding area than those that have left the country and, in theory will have first choice of prime territories come the breeding season, ensuring that their offspring get the best start.

Have you noticed any birds leaving yet? Anything unsual or suprising? As always, we'd love to hear, so post a comment below.


  • Comment number 1.

    Swifts have gone from Leicester city area where I work, all in a day or two it seems. Haven't noticed chiffchaff calling from my local copse in the last week either. Autumn draws in!

  • Comment number 2.

    I've noticed Swallows gathering in large flocks on Telegraph wires, a sign of change perhaps?

  • Comment number 3.

    Most of the swifts have gone from the glasgow area now, but just a couple hanging on today.

  • Comment number 4.

    I came back from holiday on Monday to find 'my' swifts gone - they have nested in my eaves, in Reading, for the past three years ... no early morning wake-up screech until next year!

  • Comment number 5.

    i live in Upminster, Essex and have noticed the swifts have been absent for the last 2-3 weeks. The last time I went for a walk I didn't hear a single chiffchaff. I feel somewhat sad as we only had these beauties for such short space of time, but i am looking forward to the winter migration here.

  • Comment number 6.

    The swifts where i keep my horse are still around but numbers are going down,so i am presuming they are leaving gradually.Do buzzards migrate aswell?Tonight when i was walking my dog near the horse field i saw a buzzard feeding on the ground after a successful hunt,stood watching it for about 15 minutes,it was amazing!

  • Comment number 7.

    My local Swifts left on their regular date of the 11th August, they seem to go on the same day every year.

  • Comment number 8.

    I live in north staffordshire and we notice the first half of July we were inundated with sparrows and starlings and the swift were everywhere and then coming to the end of the third week of July we have seen nothing. Everyone is commenting where have all the birds gone. All we see is 2 crows and 1 pidgeon and occassionally magpies. Does anybody know why

  • Comment number 9.

    We went on holiday 3rd week of July and our garden was full of birds on our return in 6 days theres not any birds to be seen not even the magpies which are always around and wood pigeons please can anyone comment on what has happened my garden feels very lonely without them, were they upset because we left them or has migration started early does anyone know?

  • Comment number 10.

    I live in Northern Ireland and we have swallows who have just hatched a new clutch of eggs. I was hoping that this meant we were going to get some good weather!

  • Comment number 11.

    I live in North Hampshire and we have a pair of Turtle Doves that visit are garden every year. Still in teh garden ATM. Have not see any young this year though.

  • Comment number 12.

    i have a swallows nest in my garage with three eggs in
    my question is, is this a bit for a second brood ?

  • Comment number 13.

    I live in Somerset on an old farm with a very healthy group of swallows who return here every year, we had about 6 Pairs return this year and there were approx 50 of them few weeks ago However a couple of weeks ago there were only about 20 of them around and I was concerned that the Peregrine falcon or Hobby's who actively hunt them in our yard and fields had killed a large number of them. However most of that number have now returned - where have they been? Are they practising long distance flights? (On the Peregrine/Hobby's - We are not 100% sure which one is the culprit we have witnessed them hunting quite a few times but have never been quick enough to identify it for sure, earlier this week one had actually followed the swallows into the shed but had got stuck in there because the opening is quite awkward and narrow and it was only because my husband had heard the commotion he open the shed that it flew out, again didn't identify it.)

  • Comment number 14.

    The swifts swarmed overhead this morning in Lewes near the south coast. Now they're gone, south presumably. They must have been the last to leave.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thanks to everyone who has commented on the departure of Swifts. Most have now gone, as illustrated by the BirdTrack reporting rate, though there are small numbers hanging around (there was one at the BTO Nunnery Lakes reserve yesterday, for example).

  • Comment number 16.

    #8. Anne / #9. tinkerbelle - an absence of birds in your garden at this time of year is likely to be the result of birds like tits flocking together in post-breeding groups, then roaming around to take advantage of the natural food supplies that are still plentiful in late summer. For the next few weeks (until the weather gets colder) it will be quite normal to see very few birds for much of the time, then sudden 'rushes' when a flock passes through your garden.

  • Comment number 17.

    evening,there is still quite a few swifts in the area i keep my horses,i counted at least 10 yesterday,i was wondering if these are this years fledglings?they don't seem to be in hurry to leave even with weather changing,just hope they don't leave it too late to start migrating.also not seeing as many buzzards over the horses,do they migrate?

  • Comment number 18.

    We seem to have had at least 100 Swallows passing through our garden this afternoon. We live on the Kentish coast in South East England. The only trouble is the birds seem to be flying DUE NORTH?! Can anyone explain as I am a keen bird noticer at best I am afraid to say!

  • Comment number 19.

    About 200 Geese gathered at the moment on the old Brickworks pond here in Rhyl, I think they are Canada Geese and they've been gathering slowly for a while now but multiplying rapidly. Looks fantastic when they are all in the air

  • Comment number 20.

    I heard a lot of geese a couple of days ago in Kirkby, Liverpool. Not sure if they were arriving or leaving as I could not see them

  • Comment number 21.

    Most of the Canada Geese took off this afternoon, what a noise, had to run out to see them. Amazing, the pond really looks empty now, but quite tatty round the edges where they've been preening and the feathers have floated to the side.


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