RSPB/RBBP Willow Tit survey (February-April 2019 and 2020)
The Rare Breeding Birds Panel, RSPB and Welsh Ornithological Society are delivering the first national Willow Tit survey during 2019 and 2020. The aim is for county-level surveys to be conducted across the known range by Willow Tit study groups, county bird clubs and other organisations. The photo of a Willow Tit (left) is provided courtesy of RSPB Images/Ian Butler. Below you can find more information and links to copies of the survey instructions and forms. If you would like to get involved, please get in touch with the RBBP Secretary or the national organiser Simon Wotton.
Why survey Willow Tits?
Our endemic race of Willow Tit Poecile montanus kleinschmidti is the second-fastest declining species in the UK (after the Turtle Dove) and is Red-listed. RSPB and others have conducted research into causes of decline, and are trialling woodland management solutions for Willow Tits. They are highly sedentary, remaining in an area close to their breeding territory throughout the year. In recent years, they have been lost from large areas of southern and eastern England. Due to the declining numbers, monitoring is becoming increasingly difficult. While the BTO/JNCC/RSPB UK Breeding Bird Survey is still able to produce an annual trend, the sample had fallen to just 28 squares by 2017.The RBBP added Willow Tit to its list of species reported annually in 2010, but it is difficult to get complete coverage in those areas where it is still relatively numerous. Our reported totals (2010-2017) have been remarkably consistent, falling in the range 620-730 pairs, but this is likely to be a gross underestimate owing to limited coverge in those core areas. Although collation of records by the RBBP is nevertheless useful, it is currently insufficient to produce robust population estimates, measures of change or maps of current distribution - hence the need for a national survey. RBBP data have proven useful for the design of this survey.
A national survey is needed if conservation work is going to be properly underpinned by evidence. The 2019-20 survey will help establish a more robust population estimate but also help scientists investigate the causes of the decline, such as the potential impact of deteriorating habitat quality.
How will the survey work?
The aim is to conduct county-level surveys across the known range by Willow Tit study groups, county bird clubs and other organisations. The survey period will be from mid-February to mid-April, during the pre-breeding season when the birds are territorial, with two visits per tetrad (2x2 km) during this period. Surveys will be conducted in all suitable habitat within tetrads, using a standardised playback method (with the recording provided, see link below). In 2019, nearly 1,000 tetrads were surveyed (see map, right), which is encouraging, but there are areas where more coverage is needed. The map shows all tetrads covered so far: red squares show tetrads where Willow Tits have been recorded and blue squares where they have not been found. Grey squares are those that still need coverage - please contact the organisers (see top paragraph) to get involved.
Full instructions can be downloaded here.
The recording form is available here.
The recording to be used for playback can be downloaded here.
As Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers also occur in similar habitats to Willow Tits in some areas, please remember that this species is also a rare breeding bird. Therefore we ask that observers ensure that any sightings are reported to the county recorder or logged via BirdTrack.