Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Red-backed Shrike.

Red-backed Shrike. Marc Heath.

The Red-backed Shrike (RBS) once extinct in the UK has bred for the second year in succession on Dartmoor in Devon. Sadly there is a negative side to these brilliant events in that a 24 hour watch was needed to be set up to guard against egg thieves which still roam around the world. But hey....two breeding successes this year of these 'butcher' birds fledged a total of seven young and a hope now exists that the RBS will recolonise parts of the country once again.  

Red-backed Shrike. Marc Heath.

The RBS earned the tag of  'butcher bird' because of their habit of impaling some of their prey on thorns and wire fences as a larder for later eating. They are a small bird - not much bigger than a Bullfinch - and are accomplished hunters prone to catching small birds as well as small insects, lizard, mice, and vole. They winter in east Africa to move north to breed in Europe. The UK population declined in the 1930's, and it last bred in Devon in 1970, it was eventually lost as a breeder in this country in the 1990's. Egg collecting - illegal since the 1950's - played its part in accelerating that decline and remains a real threat to this day obviously including these breeding records in Devon, hence the massive 24 hour protection they needed and were given by the volunteers on Dartmoor....a big up to all volunteers in Devon regarding the RBS's in 2010 and 2011.

By the early 1950's Clifford Oakes recorded the RBS as 'formerly a regular nester', in fact to read Mitchell's earlier accounts of the species is like something out of another world, there appears no doubt that the species was quite numerous in the first half of the 19th century and beyond. Mitchell goes on to record ample evidence that it was a regular breeder and quotes Knott End - which is a few miles from my home in Lancaster - amongst other locations where it bred regularly. However, by the closing years of the 19th century the breeding sites had been forsaken and the species had become almost extinct even as a passage bird. Over a period of almost 30 years since 1909 Oakes mentioned only two records of the RBS in Lancashire, the last was of a bird reported near Chat Moss - now in Greater Manchester - in July 1938.

On a personal level the only RBS I ever caught up with was a 1st winter bird at/around Rossall School on the Fylde which I saw on Thursday 18 September 2008.

Thanks to 'Reculver Birder' Marc Heath for the excellent photographs of the juvenile Red-backed Shrike at Herne Bay in Kent recently.


Warren Baker said...

Hmmmmm............and there was me imagining you were old enough to remember the RBS when it was a common breeder here Pete :-)

Pete Woodruff said...

Hmmmm....and there was me usually thanking you for your comments Warren. said...

I hope the population arises,here where I live they are easy to see but not comonn and the population is rare to read something about egg thiefs??
Nice day

Pete Woodruff said...

Interesting, your comment re RBS decreasing in Spain....Thank You. egg thieves in Spain? said...

As much as I know is not a mayor problem , i never had known.....we have sadly others, like poison in some hunting cottages...
I am a follower now.....

Pete Woodruff said...

Sad....very sad, tragic, and world wide in its many forms, the hatred of wildlife.

Always look on the bright side said the man....not always easy said I.