Mysterious Deaths Of 1,000s Of Birds At Sea
The RSPB are investigating the mysterious deaths of thousands of common migratory birds out at sea.
Fishermen have reported seeing hundreds of seemingly exhausted and disoriented garden birds dropping from the sky into the waters off England’s south coast.
At the same time, the east coast, from Northumberland to Kent, has seen the arrival of many birds, including redwings, fieldfares, bramblings and blackbirds, perhaps numbering in their millions.
A forlorn chiffchaff peers out from the portholes of a fishing boat: The RSPB are investigating reports of thousands of lost migratory birds dying at sea
Who’s a pretty boy then? A fisherman grins as a lost song thrush sits on his shoulder
One professional boat skipper told the conservation charity: ‘While fishing about 10 miles south of Portsmouth, we witnessed thousands of garden birds disorientated, land on the sea and most drowning.
‘Species included goldcrests, robins, thrushes and blackbirds. The sky was thick with garden birds. I estimate I saw 500 birds die and that was just in our 300-yard sphere.
‘On the way home we just saw dead songbirds in the water: it was a harrowing sight.’
It is believed that the birds fell victim to an appalling combination of fog and heavy winds around England’s coasts at the end of last month.
The RSPB suggests that the massive swarms of birds arriving on the east coast may have been the lucky survivors that managed to make it across the North Sea from Scandinavia in difficult conditions.
Many others may have perished before making landfall, the Society said.
Weary: The RSPB warns that those exhausted birds which have made it to the UK will be looking for food and may be visiting gardens, so homeowners should stock up feeders
Graham Madge of the RSPB told Radio 4’s Material World programme: ‘What we seem to have is what ornithologists call a classic ‘fall’ where you get a concentrated period of migration that basically dumped a lot of birds along the east coast.
‘We think that these birds left Scandinavia in good weather conditions, which is what birds are evolved to do, and they were drifting along the North Sea where they encountered the foggy conditions that we had a few weeks ago.’
EXHAUSTED KESTREL LOST AT SEA HITCHES RIDE BACK TO SHORE
An exhausted kestrel which found itself 25 miles out to sea hitched a ride back to shore on the shoulder of a yachtswoman.
Carol Raffe, 57, was sailing to the Suffolk coast from the Netherlands with husband Max Raffe, 55, when she felt a tapping on her neck.
She turned to her left and saw the large bird of prey – normally only found on dry land – staring back at her.
The kestrel,Â pictured right, which they’ve since nicknamed Lucky, then hopped onto the deck of the 30ft Cornish pilot cutter before becoming spooked and taking off again.
But the battered bird could only circle the mast once before flopping into the water.
Fortunately it mustered enough energy to flap back on board, and sat with its new shipmates for the next four hours.
It eventually left Carol and Max as they sailed into the mouth of the river Deben, Suffolk. It is believed the wayward animal had been blown off course by strong easterly winds.
One such site to experience a â€˜fallâ€™ of stranded migrant birds is the RSPBâ€™s Bempton Cliffs reserve in North Yorkshire.
Ian Kendall, the reserves manager at the site, said: ‘There are birds in their thousands, on the cliffs, in the surrounding fields, hedgerows and along the length of the Yorkshire Coast.
‘The birds left Scandinavia in glorious sunshine but as they crossed the North Sea, they flew into fog and rain, so they stopped off at the first bit of land they have come across. The place has been dripping with birds.’
Mr Madge told Material World that such a phenomenon, while unusual, was not especially alarming – it was, indeed, ‘a fantastic sight’, he said.
‘But then a couple of days later we started receiving reports from fishermen along the south coast … saying that there boat was surrounded by hundreds of birds many of which where just so tired and disorientiated that they dropped into the sea.
‘This is particularly unusual; it’s birds like thrushes, robins and a whole variety of other species that can be very good long distance migrants.’
The RSPB warns that those exhausted birds which have made it to the UK will be looking for food and may be visiting gardens, especially as the weather is expected to turn with the UK forecast to receive the first icy blasts of winter.
Ian Hayward, an adviser with the RSPBâ€™s wildlife enquiries team, said: ‘The first cold snap will encourage many birds to visit gardens increasingly, in a quest for food.
‘Now is the time to start topping up bird tables and feeders. These birds need all the help they can get, so gardeners and farmers can also help birds by not cutting hedgerows laden with much-needed berries.’