Life

Environment: Report reveals the effect of a changing climate on birds in Northern Ireland

Great tits appear to be benefiting from our milder winters. The State of the UK's Birds 2017 report showed the greatest increases in great tits was in Northern Ireland

CLIMATE change is having an increasing impact on our bird populations, with some species disappearing while new migrants are settling, according to a new report. Timings are being reset too, with egg laying getting earlier in the year, while autumn departures for warmer climes are delayed by up to a month.

The State of the UK's Birds report has found that we can expect to see significant changes in the composition and distribution of Northern Ireland's bird communities and in their behaviour.

One of the most compelling revelations is how birds have adapted their behaviour in response to warming temperatures. One of our most familiar summer visitors, the swallow, which migrates to Ireland from southern Africa each year, is arriving here 15 days earlier and breeding 11 days earlier than it did in the 1960s. Swallows and other migratory birds, such as garden warblers and whitethroats are also delaying their return migration each autumn and so some species are now spending up to four weeks longer here each year.

Great tits and wrens have benefited from our increasingly warmer and wetter winters, with the greatest increase in these species choosing to live in the north of Ireland. The great tit is laying its eggs 11 days earlier than 40 years ago.

However, the report has highlighted that many of our rarer breeding birds, such as the dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter, and Slavonian grebe are at a high risk of extinction.

"These findings also alert us to the fact that conservation planning for the future will have to take climate change into account," says Dr Neil McCulloch, an ornithologist at the north's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

"In addition to addressing the causes of climate change, we need to ensure that both our protected areas and the wider countryside are able to provide suitable conditions to accommodate both retreating and expanding species. This will undoubtedly be challenging."

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