Peer-reviewed articles in British Birds

Each month British Birds publishes a range of peer-reviewed articles, each giving a detailed account of its subject, with the necessary page space allocated to allow for really in-depth coverage. Subjects covered include identification, conservation, distribution, status & taxonomy, ecology and bird behaviour.

Here is a glimpse of some of the recently published articles.

To read more about what is in the current issue, click here.

The shearwater’s world

By Tim Guilford

Abstract Shearwaters are among the greatest travellers on earth, living their elusive lives mostly far out at sea, but constrained to breed in dense colonies on islands away from land-based predators. This article describes how recent advances in miniature bio-logging technology and modern analytical techniques have enabled the secrets of the shearwater’s world to become accessible to scientific understanding. From fundamental questions in life-history theory, distribution patterns, and navigation, to applications in the conservation of critically endangered species, aspects of the shearwater’s world (including Manx Puffinus puffinus, Balearic P. mauretanicus and Scopoli’s Calonectris diomedea) are revealed through the lens of one research group combining modern bio-telemetry, experiment, and classical field study. (Image: Tim Guilford working at the Manx Shearwater study colony on Skomer. Ben Dean The Elegant Tern in Britain and Europe

The Elegant Tern in Britain and Europe

By Andy Stoddart and Chris Batty

Abstract Elegant Terns Thalasseus elegans have been occurring in Europe since 1974 and have reached Britain several times since 2002. Their identification has proved problematic: the species is virtually confined to the Pacific coast of the Americas; some of the birds recorded in Europe have shown potentially atypical characters; and the spectre of hybridisation has never been far away. However, DNA analysis of three of these European birds, which proved to be genetically pure Elegant Terns, has brought new clarity to their identification. This paper sets out the history of the British and European records and documents the long process of uncovering their true identity and admission to the British List. (Image: Britain’s first Elegant Tern, Dawlish, Devon, 18th May 2002. Note the larger size than the accompanying Sandwich Terns and the long, slightly decurved bill, orange for most of its length but a paler yellow-orange towards the tip. The crest is also longer and more shaggy or ‘spiky’ than those of the Sandwich Terns. The pre-alternate moult included five (inner) primaries. Paul Marshall)

The Common Pheasant – its status in the UK and the potential impacts of an abundant non-native 

By Mark Avery

Abstract The Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus occurs throughout temperate Asia but in the Western Palearctic it is a native bird only in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Elsewhere, it is widely introduced and about half of the European Pheasant population is found in the UK, where breeding numbers have doubled in the past 40 years. Some 43 million young Pheasants are released into the UK countryside each year to fuel the pastime of Pheasant shooting. Only 13 million of them are shot so the rest must die from other causes. What are the impacts of these huge numbers of non-native birds on the ecology of the countryside, other economic activities and our own lives? (Image: Male Common Pheasant Phasianus colchicus, Northumberland, April 2006. David Tipling )

The identification of juvenile Common and Pallid Swifts

By Hans Larsson

Abstract Separating Common Apus apus and Pallid Swifts A. pallidus in autumn in a vagrant context can be one of the more difficult challenges for birders in northwest Europe. The fact that the key characters of the juvenile plumage of both species are poorly descried in the literature is an additional complication. Based on a review of Swedish records of Pallid Swift, and publication in Swedish in Vår Fågelvärld, this paper describes the key identification characters of Common and Pallid Swifts in juvenile plumage. (Image: Juvenile Common Swift, Sweden, 13th August 2016. Note the darker blackish-brown ground colour, the marked contrast between the whitish ‘face’ and the rest of the head, the distinct white leading edge to the wings, the rather well defined and whitish fringing to the wing-coverts, and the quite deep tail fork of this individual. Hans Larsson)

Important Bird Areas: Ascension Island

By Nicola Weber and Sam Weber

Abstract Ascension Island is a UK Overseas Territory in the tropical South Atlantic that supports regionally and globally important nesting populations of 11 seabird species. Its status as one of the most important warm-water seabird breeding stations in the world is probably linked to its isolated position close to a zone of elevated productivity driven by equatorial upwelling. Prior to human settlement in 1815, it is believed that Ascension was home to millions of seabirds, but the introduction of cats Felis catus resulted in rapid population collapse and the displacement of all but one of the ground-nesting species from the mainland. Breeding seabirds became confined to inaccessible cliff ledges and 14 small offshore stacks. A seabird restoration programme began in 2001 and since the eradication of feral cats, seabirds have resumed nesting on the mainland in significant, and still-increasing, numbers. The Island has three Important Bird Areas. Yet challenges remain: on land, careful management of invasive plants and rodents; at sea, sustainable management of regional fish stocks. The recent establishment of one of the world’s largest marine protected areas is a major landmark for nature conservation on Ascension and will set the backdrop for future research on the island’s seabirds. (Image: Ascension Frigatebird and Sooty Tern, Ascension Island, February 2013. Derren Fox)

White-rumped Swift in Yorkshire: new to Britain

By Lesley Ball

Abstract On the afternoon of 14th October 2018, a swift with a white rump was found at Hornsea Mere, Yorkshire. The bird was initially feeding alone but later joined a group of House Martins Delichon urbicum at the western end of the mere, where it showed well and was photographed. After some initial deliberation over its identity, photographs established that this was a White-rumped Swift Apus caffer. Many observers were able to enjoy this first for Britain before it disappeared as the light began to fade, and it was not seen again. The record has been accepted by BBRC and BOURC and added to Category A of the British List. (Image: White-rumped Swift at Hornsea. John Hewitt)