Cuckoo numbers are in steep decline across almost half of England because of climate change but buzzards are up, according to a new study.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has looked at which species are most hit and helped by climate change.

Researchers found weather changes had a long-term effect on about a third of the 68 species studied.

BTO science director James Pearce-Higgins said there were "winners and losers".

Thirteen species have seen a greater than 10% rise in population numbers while three have suffered big drops.

Migratory birds are the biggest losers.

In five of the 11 regions studied, cuckoos, which have seen a population drop of more than 80% in the past 30 years, were the bird with the biggest fall in numbers.

The swift and turtle dove, which are also migratory, had the biggest drops in two areas each. Cuckoos, which are on the RSPB's red list for conservation, are in the UK between April and June for breeding season.

turtle dove

Birds which spend winter in the UK tend to be faring better, according to the BTO's findings.

This is because warmer winters, which the UK has been seeing, mean better survival rates during the winter without the harsh cold to kill them off.

Garden birds, such as the robin and blue tit, have seen numbers increase over the past few decades.

This is thought to be because smaller birds tend to be fed by humans and are more likely to survive the milder winters that climate change has brought, the BTO said.

The red kite saw the largest rise in the South East, which Dr Bond said could be because it was a reintroduced species and a "conservation success story", while the ring-necked parakeet - an "invasive species better suited to adapting" - was top in London.

Species experiencing the largest increase or decline in population

RegionTop species in declineTop species increasing
EastTurtle doveBuzzard
South EastTurtle doveRed kite
LondonHouse sparrowRing-necked parakeet
South WestCuckooGreat spotted woodpecker
North WestSwiftChiffchaff
West MidlandsCuckooGoldfinch
East MidlandsCuckooBuzzard
Yorks & LincsGrey partridgeGreylag goose
North EastSwiftBuzzard
Source: British Trust for Ornithology

The data was gathered from three separate surveys of 68 bird species which have been carried out every year since 1966.

The BTO said the attribution of specific population shifts to climate change "remains challenging", but it identified a number of species which were directly affected.

"What we can see from our evidence is a reshuffling of the bird species," said Dr Pearce-Higgins.

"There are some winners that are doing better and some losers that are not doing so well."

Naturalist Nick Baker said birds like the curlew needed a "safeguard" on their habitats if they were "going to have a fighting chance".


"Birds are amazing creatures - adaptable and resilient - but, as we've seen, only up to a point," Mr Baker added.

Dr Bond said caution should be paid between correlation and causation - the bird populations may correlate with climate changes but that does not mean they are solely caused by them.

"It might not all be down to climate change although that is certainly a factor," he said, citing changing land use and "habitat fragmentation" as other possible causes.

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