Spanish Ornithological Society’s census of visiting winter birds has started – and the public can take part

Image: SEO.

We’re all used to the idea that the Canary Islands get swallows as visitors in the winter – of the human kind – but many more actual avian visitors come to Spain each year, and can and do stay for much longer than 90 days! Now, the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (Spanish Ornithological Society), which carries out annual programmes to assess the populations of migratory birds, has said that given the unambitious outcome of COP26, it’s imperative for us all to work with nature to address the climate emergency and the alarming loss of biodiversity. The SEO says that it’s already confirmed from such surveys that fewer and fewer birds arrive in Spain in winter from the north, and one of the main reasons for this is global warming.

The monitoring of the most common birds carried out with public-involvement science programmes is key to knowing the state of their populations. The censuses, carried out by hundreds of SEO/BirdLife volunteers every season, are essential to quantify the decline of species such as the red-legged partridge or the blackcap and to be able to study measures for their conservation. This year’s census has now started and is running here in the Canaries as well as on the mainland and in the Balearics. Volunteers who collaborate do so for two days each winter.

These surveys provide key information to help identify species with conservation problems as well as pinpointing the sites and habitats affected. When this information is collated with analysis of how harsh a particular winter is, it can also serve as a thermometer of how climate change is affecting biodiversity. The programme currently helps to determine the status of the populations of more than 80 avian species including the chaffinch, black redstart, wood pigeon, blackcap, and woodpecker, all of which are doing well, and the red-legged partridge, warbler, skylark, lark and rock bunting, all showing declines in their populations.

Anyone interested in taking part in this public science census to help assess and counter the damage done to birds by the climate emergency can do so by contacting SEO/BirdLife directly through the Sacin programme website HERE. There was a famous scene in the original Mary Poppins film where an impoverished old woman sat every day on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral selling bird seed, and Mary Poppins sang “Feed the birds”. No-one has to sit on cold church steps for ages to collaborate in this census because it can be carried out in any area and only involves two mornings in total. Help the birds, it’s not even tuppence a bag …