The breeding and wintering birds at Rotherfield

Grey partridge pair (Markus Jenny)
(Photo credit: Markus Jenny)

by Dr Francis Buner, Senior Conservation Scientist, GWCT

One of the key aims of the Rotherfield Demonstration Project is the recovery of the red-listed grey partridge in an area where they formerly have gone extinct. The habitat creation and improvements together with the legal predation control needed to re-establish this iconic farmland flagship species does, of course, also benefit a wide range of other wildlife.

Arguably the most obvious group of other wildlife to benefit from these immense efforts are birds in general. Since 2010 we have monitored birds intensively during the breeding season (along a total of 30km transect) and during winter (within 6km squares); regular bird ringing takes place at three different locations as part of a BTO house sparrow Retrapping Adults for Survival project; specific lapwing, woodcock, kestrel and barn owl breeding surveys; and finally observations made during our spring and autumn gamebird counts.

Since 2010 we have recorded an impressive 95 bird species at Rotherfield. Of these, 45 are of British conservation concern (25 red-listed, 19 amber-listed and one, the wryneck, once a widespread breeding bird that now can only be found during spring and autumn migration).

At Rotherfield, 56 species do breed regularly, in other words every year. Of these 14 are red-listed or, of high conservation concern. These are the grey partridge (22 pairs this year), lapwing (7 pairs), woodcock, cuckoo, skylark, tree pipit, song thrush, mistle thrush, spotted flycatcher, marsh tit, starling, house sparrow, linnet and yellowhammer. Another red-listed species, the hawfinch, breeds only irregularly, i.e. not every year.

Skylark (Markus Jenny)  Yellowhammer (Markus Jenny)

Grey partridge habitat restoration has significantly increased breeding numbers
of the red-listed skylark and yellowhammer (photo credits: Markus Jenny).

The red-listed herring gull is a non-breeding occasional visitor that uses freshly ploughed fields for foraging. Red-listed regular winter visitors are the hen harrier (most winters one or two are seen hunting the beetle banks and wildbird mix strips); sizable flocks of fieldfare and redwing, which forage the well-managed hedges for berries until they are all gone; and starlings, which use the dairy paddocks in search for food.

One of the fastest-declining birds of Britain, the turtle dove, is now only recorded during spring and autumn migration. To our big excitement and surprise, a black redstart was captured while ringing in my garden this April, the first record of the species since counting began. Numerous whinchats make use of the wild bird mix strips while passing through on migration every autumn.

Kestrel (Markus Jenny)  Short-eared owl (Francis Buner)

Five pairs of the amber-listed kestrel breed regularly at Rotherfield (photo: Markus Jenny),
whereas the short-eared owl has been recorded as a winter visitor (photo: Francis Buner).

Another eight breeding species are amber-listed, i.e. of lower conservation concern. These are: mallard, red kite (one pair), kestrel (five pairs), stock dove, tawny owl, house martin (a colony of around 10 pairs at the local church), dunnock and bullfinch. Regularly recorded amber-listed birds that use the habitats at Rotherfield during spring or autumn migration are the quail, merlin, golden plover, snipe, meadow pipit, redstart and willow warbler. Sadly, willow warblers have not been recorded as a breeding bird since 2012.

Typical farmland birds that once occurred at Rotherfield but are now extinct in the wider area are the corn crake, turtle dove, tree sparrow and corn bunting. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day the list of breeding birds would reach 60 again? Certainly the corn bunting doesn’t seem unrealistic, and the tree sparrow might well be re-established using re-introduction techniques. Now there is a thought…

The birds of Rotherfield

  • * Birds of conservation concern
  • R = UK red-listed
  • A = UK amber-listed
  • E = extinct as breeding bird in the UK
  • Regular breeder = evidence of nesting every year since 2010
  • Irregular breeder = does not nest every year
  • Non-breeder = uses area during the breeding season for foraging only
  • Winter visitor = found during the winter months only (Dec-Feb)
  • Passage migrant = uses the area as stop-over site for foraging and resting

Click here to download the full list of birds recorded at Rotherfield.

  Conservation status Regular breeder Irregular breeder Non-breeder Winter visitor Passage migrant
Grey heron, Ardea cinerea       x    
Canada Goose, Brenta canadensis         x  
Mallard*, Anas platyrhynchos A x        
Red-legged partridge, Alectoris rufa   x        
Grey partridge*, Perdix perdix R x        
Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus   x        
Quail*, Coturnix coturnix A         x
Red kite*, Milvus milvus A x        
Hen harrier*, Circus cyaneus R       x x
Sparrowhawk, Accipiter nisus   x        
Buzzard, Buteo buteo   x        
Kestrel*, Falco tinnunculus A x        
Hobby, Falco subbuteo       x    
Peregrine, Falco peregrinus       x    
Merlin*, Falco columbarius R         x
Moorhen, Gallinula chloropus     x      
Golden plover, Pluvialis apricaria           x
Lapwing*, Vanellus vanellus R x        
Woodcock*, Scolopax rusticola R x        
Snipe*, Gallinago Gallinago A         x
Herring gull*, Larus argentatus R     x    
Mediterranean gull*, Larus melanocephalus A     x    
Woodpigeon, Columba palumbus   x     x  
Stock dove*, Columba oenas A x        
Collared dove, Streptopelia decaocto   x        
Turtle dove*, Streptopelia turtur R         x
Cuckoo*, Cuculus canorus R x        
Barn owl, Tyto alba   x        
Short-eared owl, Asio flammeus A       x x
Tawny owl*, Strix aluco A x        
Little owl, Athene noctua   x        
Nightjar*, Caprimulgus europaeus A         x
Swift*, Apus apus A     x    
Wryneck*, Jynx torquilla E         x
Green woodpecker, Picus viridis   x        
Great spotted woodpecker, Dendrocopos major   x        
Skylark*, Alauda arvensis R x        
Woodlark, Lullula arborea     x      
Swallow, Hirundo rustica   x        
House martin*, Delichon urbica A x        
Tree pipit*, Anthus trivialis R x        
Meadow pipit*, Anthus pratensis A       x x
Pied wagtail, Motacilla alba   x        
Yellow wagtail*, Motacilla flava R         x
Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes   x        
Dunnock*, Prunella modularis A x        
Robin, Erithacus rubecula   x        
Nightingale*, Lusciana megarhynchos R         x
Redstart*, Phoenicurus phoenicurus A         x
Black redstart*, Phoenicurus ochruros R         x
Whinchat*, Saxicola rubetra R         x
Stonechat, Saxicola torquata         x x
Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe           x
Blackbird, Turdus merula   x        
Fieldfare*, Turdus pilaris R       x  
Redwing*, Turdus iliacus R       x  
Song thrush*, Turdus philomelos R x        
Mistle thrush*, Turdus viscivorus R x        
Sedge warbler, Acrocephalus schoenobaenus           x
Garden warbler, Sylvia borin     x     x
Lesser whitethroat, Sylvia communis     x     x
Whitethroat, Sylvia communis   x       x
Blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla   x       x
Willow warbler*, Phylloscopus trochilus A   x     x
Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus collybita   x       x
Goldcrest, Regulus regulus   x        
Firecrest, Regulus ignicapillus   x        
Spotted flycatcher*, Muscicapa striata R x        
Marsh tit*, Parus palustris R x        
Coal tit, Parus ater   x        
Blue tit, Parus caeruleus   x        
Great tit, Parus major   x        
Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus   x        
Nuthatch, Sitta europea   x        
Treecreeper, Certhia familiaris   x        
Magpie, Pica pica   x        
Jay, Garrulus glandarius   x        
Jackdaw, Corvus monedula            
Rook, Corvus frugilegus   x        
Carrion crow, Corvus corone   x        
Raven, Corvus corax   x        
Starling*, Sturnus vulgaris R x     x  
House sparrow*, Parus domesticus R x        
Chaffinch, Fringilla coelebs   x        
Brambling, Fringilla montifringilla         x  
Linnet*, Carduelis cannabina R x        
Redpoll*, Carduelis flammea A       x  
Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis   x        
Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris   x        
Siskin, Carduelis spinus         x  
Bullfinch*, Pyrrhula pyrrhula A x        
Hawfinch*, Coccothraustes coccothraustes R   x      
Crossbill, Loxia curvirostra     x      
Reed bunting*, Emberiza schoeniclus A       x  
Yellowhammer*, Emberiza citrinella R x        
Total: 95 45 56 7 6 13 24

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