As the days get longer and the temperature creeps up you may have noticed an earlier alarm call than usual. This is known as the dawn chorus and it indicates the start of a momentous time of year for our wild birds (and ecologists!)
Spring is a critical time for male birds to attract a mate with their songs and elaborate displays. You may already have seen birds flying back and forth with nesting material as they hopefully prepare for their incoming brood. Birds typically align their breeding periods with the warmer months of the year, when their food supply is at its peak. This gives their offspring a head start in life and is why ecologists have a lot of work to do.
Skylarks are a prominent voice in the dawn chorus. Their song is a source of inspiration for of our jazz musicians.
In the UK, all wild birds, their eggs and nests are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA). During breeding season, this protection begins from the onset of their nest building and extends for the duration their young are dependent. In summary, it an offence to intentionally or recklessly:
Kill, injure or take a wild bird
Damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use
Take or destroy the egg of a wild bird
Rarer birds are granted stronger protection under the WCA 1981. For Schedule 1 (S1) birds such as the Barn Owl or the Scottish Crossbill, it is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly:
Disturb a S1 bird while it is nesting on or near a nest containing eggs or young
Disturb the dependent young of a S1 bird
Disturb a S1 bird while lekking
Birds which are particularly sensitive to disturbance are the Golden eagle, White-tailed eagle, Hen harrier and Red kite. They are listed under Schedule 1A (S1A) of the WCA 1981 making it illegal to intentionally or recklessly:
Harass a S1A bird at any time
Capercaillie are one of few species which perform lek mating. Taking place around April, males parade around an ‘arena’ of watchful females. They click, present their plumage and fend off rival males to secure several mates.
Interfering with a lek is an offence under the WCA 1981.
For birds such as the Golden eagle and White-tailed eagle which habitually occupy their nests throughout the year, further protections are offered under Schedule A1 (SA1) of the WCA making it an offence to intentionally or recklessly:
Damage, destroy, take, or interfere with the nest of a SA1 bird.
This protection gives our wild birds a greater chance at breeding successfully and boosting their populations. Though conflicts can arise when potentially disturbing construction work coincides with breeding bird season. Any potential conflict between development and breeding birds can be avoided through early planning such as timing works outside of the breeding bird season, implementing harmless deterrent devices, or trimming vegetation to dissuade ground nesting birds.
Knowing what species may be present on site is crucial to avoid unexpected delays as a result of nesting birds. Our team of ecologists are skilled in carrying out bird surveys such as breeding bird transects or vantage point surveys according to best practice guidance. A member of our team is also a Schedule 1 bird licence holder permitting certain actions which would otherwise breach the WCA 1981. The use of a licence is granted only under strict terms by the licensing authority, for example where there is overriding concern for public health.
If you are planning a development which may interfere with wild birds, please get in touch with our Ecology team at email@example.com or call 01381 610313.