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Cold brings exhausted birds to islands

Exhausted birds have been "literally dropping from the sky to land" as the cold weather continues.

Lapwing by Damian Waters (Drum Images) via Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

Lapwings and Golden Plovers are arriving on the islands after being forced to move when their mainland feeding areas became frozen or snow-covered. 

Islander Bob Dawson told This is Scilly: “It’s a real struggle for them to find worms and other food, and when they reach here they’re often already at a low ebb. They will feed at night so as the tide drops they might find enough food to survive the night. There are stories from islanders of birds literally falling dead in fields and also taking food at any opportunity, even chicken feed.

“It’s an occasional phenomenon, thought to also involve birds from elsewhere in Europe; Lapwings generally are scarce visitors otherwise. The biggest Scilly count on record is 8,000+ in late February 1978 but there may have been more in the influxes of 1900 and 1947. They have even made it to North America on occasion.”

Bob spotted at least 25 Lapwings on Porthcressa at lunchtime, with “another flock of 30 seen”, as well as a dozen or more Golden and seven Grey Plovers.

He went on to caution islanders to give struggling birds some space.

Golden Plover by Gillian Day via Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

He said: “Lapwings, a foot long with their colourful plumage and jaunty crests, are striking, unusual and beautiful birds, so its’s very tempting to get close for a good look. But although they may seem tame (exhausted!) it would be so good if people can give them some space to allow them to feed and not have to take flight unnecessarily. It is also advisable to keep dogs away or on leads as tired birds often easily caught.

“Lapwings have declined a lot as UK breeding birds (64% between 1970 & 2015) but mainly that reflects changing agricultural practices - their official global status is ‘Near Threatened’. They have spectacular calls and flight displays in spring (Chaucer seemed to link the Lapwing with deceit, which remains the collective noun), with the wings making ‘ripping’ noises through the air.”

He added: “If temperatures do rise quickly those birds that have survived the immediate challenge may be able to find enough food to replenish their reserves, but inevitably some may simply have become too emaciated to recover."


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