Image above by Tom Wallis

Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus - Red listed

Devon is the national stronghold for this bunting which otherwise only has a few pairs in Cornwall. Largely sedentary and associated in the UK with mixed farmland, Cirl Buntings feed in summer on invertebrates like grasshoppers in grassland, and in winter on seeds in arable habitats, particularly weedy stubbles. They nest in hedges and scrub. Thanks to the efforts of farmers and other land managers entering agri-environment schemes (AES) and to advice from RSPB, the species recovered from just 118 pairs in 1989 to over 1,000 pairs in 2016. The UK population is, however, still range-restricted and mostly confined to Devon coastal farmland between Exeter and Plymouth, with just a small reintroduced population in Cornwall. The bird’s future is dependent upon continued wildlife-friendly farming. AES continue to provide important Cirl Bunting habitat, although currently there is limited support for spring barley stubbles. An annual monitoring programme is being developed to identify any problems with continued recovery. The RSPB has two nature reserves whose main priority is to support key Cirl Bunting populations, and a plan to develop more conservation hub sites buffered from changes to AES delivery is being progressed. Some Cirl Buntings, particularly in Teignbridge and Torbay districts, are threatened by built development, so the RSPB has worked with relevant local planning authorities to put in place a mechanism whereby when cirl bunting habitat will be lost to new housing or roads, the developer either provides and manages replacement habitat or funds such provision via the local planning authority.

For more information on the RSPB's work, please click here.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species

Image above by Kris Gillam
Balearic shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus - Critically endangered globally

This seabird breeds exclusively in the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. After breeding, the birds disperse northwards and frequent coastal waters off Devon between June and October. Lyme Bay is an important foraging area and birds also move around the coast into the Bristol Channel in late autumn, with records from Hartland Point and from Lundy. The RSPB has been supporting partners to identify passage movements of birds into UK waters and any important foraging areas. This has involved both land and boat-based counts in Devon and tracking studies from breeding grounds. This species showed a general trend of increasing numbers in Devon between 2007 and 2013.

Image above by John Walters
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra - Red listed

Devon is a national stronghold for this rapidly declining bird. Dartmoor, Exmoor and Salisbury Plain now support the only significant breeding populations in southern England: the species has been lost as a breeding bird across much of lowland England. A ground-nesting and insectivorous bird, the Whinchat travels across the Sahara from its African wintering grounds to breed in the UK. In Devon the range of whinchats contracted considerably between 1977-85 and 2007-13, tetrad occupancy falling from 187 to 90. Breeding whinchats are now almost all confined to higher ground on Dartmoor and Exmoor, nesting on moorland and unimproved scrubby grassland where there are areas of taller vegetation such as bracken and scattered scrub and small trees. Outside the National Parks losses are probably due to changes in farming practices leading to habitat destruction, but within the parks large areas remain Whinchat-friendly. Other factors contributing to decline may include climate change and events on the species' wintering grounds in Africa or along migration routes. Through the partnership Dartmoor Moorland Birds Project (ending in 2020), an RSPB-hosted advisor has been working with Dartmoor farmers and commoners providing bespoke advice on how to help priority birds, including Whinchat. On Dartmoor, Whinchat was one of the moorland birds surveyed by RSPB in 2016 as part of the Moor than Meets the Eye project. On Exmoor (and other sites across the UK) RSPB scientists are assessing Whinchat habitat and carrying out migration tracking work to determine causes of decline and ways of helping recovery. The RSPB is also part of a partnership National Lottery Heritage Fund bid for the Dartmoor commons, through which they hope to do more work on Whinchats. The aim is to improve and safeguard habitat, so it provides sufficient food and nest sites for birds to be able to breed successfully.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species

Image above by Peter Vogel
Willow Tit Poecile montana - Red listed

Nationally a very rapidly declining species, this tit’s remaining population is concentrated in a crescent from north-east England to south-west Wales. However, the remnant population in northern Devon may prove important for the bird’s survival in the UK. Willow Tits favours scrubby wet woodland, where they make nest holes in rotten wood. To look at, they can be easily confused with the more numerous and widespread Marsh Tit. In Devon, between 1977 and 1985, these birds were found to be present in 226 tetrads (2km x 2km squares). However, by the period 2007 to 2013, the number of occupied tetrads had dropped to only 55. The number of tetrads from which breeding was confirmed or probable dropped from 166 to just 31. The species has disappeared entirely from East Devon and almost entirely from North Devon. The reasons for decline are not well understood, but may be linked to fragmentation of wet woodlands, loss of suitable dead wood, competition with other tit species for nest holes, predation by Great Spotted Woodpeckers or unsuitable woodland structure. The Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, RSPB and Devon Birds have been raising awareness of the plight of the bird and its habitat requirements in Devon in recent years and carrying out surveys. The RSPB is working with a range of partners to identify the key woodland features needed for this rapidly declining bird. Advice on managing woodlands better for wildlife, including birds such as the Willow Tit, is available for woodland owners and managers through the Woodland Wildlife Toolkit, developed by a range of conservation organisations.

The Devon Willow Tit project has been developed in partnership by Devon Birds, Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon Biodiversity Records Centre and nationally the RSPB, is working with a range of partners to identify the key woodland features needed for this rapidly declining bird. Advice on managing woodlands better for wildlife, including birds such as willow tit, will be available shortly for woodland owners and managers through the Woodland Wildlife Toolkit, being developed by a range of conservation organisations.

Map to show the Devon distribution of this species

Further sources of information:


Devon Birds