Climate change is a threat to birds

Scottish Crossbill Loxia scotica male fluffing its feathers in Scots pine on Speyside. Picture: Danny Green (

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The distribution, numbers and behaviour of birds in the UK, including many in Scotland, are altering because of a changing climate, according to a new report.

The State of the UK’s Birds 2017 (SUKB) – the one-stop shop for all the latest results from bird surveys and monitoring studies – this year highlights how many of the UK’s species across the four countries are already being affected by climate change, responding to UK average summer temperatures having increased by nearly one degree centigrade since the 1980s.

The report highlights how species are moving northwards within the UK, shifting their distributions as temperatures rise and the habitats change.

Many of Britain’s rarer breeding birds are at a high risk of extinction in the UK, based on projections of how climate will become less suitable for these species.

For species such as the dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter and snow bunting, whose UK breeding populations are found almost entirely in Scotland, population declines have been considerable already. Breeding success of the Slavonian grebe has also been impacted.

With Scotland on average 11 per cent wetter between 2007-2016 than 1961-1990, periods of very heavy rainfall during its breeding season leads to smaller populations.

The reports also show that the Scottish crossbill, the UK’s only endemic bird and only found in Scotland, is at risk of becoming extinct.

However, the report contains better news for some birds which are finding the changed climatic conditions more favourable in Scotland.

Nuthatch, goldfinch and chiffchaff have been expanding their range into Scotland over the past 30 years with large increases in the number of these birds breeding here.

While the UK cuckoo population has declined by 43 per cent between 1995 and 2015, over the same period numbers in Scotland have increased by a third. Similar patterns have also been noted in numbers of willow warbler, house martins and tree pipits in Scotland.