Tracking twites for new insights

Gareth Brede

Friday 13 July 2018

Twite (Carduelis cannabina), Balranald nature reserve, Noth Uist, Scotland

Over the next few weeks wildlife experts will learn a lot more about the life of a rare and secretive bird as they use technology to take a closer look at England's most southernly twite population.

The twite is a songbird that, without help, may disappear completely from England, the decline of the species is so concerning that it is on the conservation 'Red List'. Twites numbers have suffered as the availability of autumn seeds as well as mature heather and bracken has become scarcer, resulting in less food and suitable nesting sites. There are only 170 pairs left in the country, and despite the Dove Holes Quarry near Buxton, Derbyshire being home to less than ten pairs it is a significant population. 

Weighing less than a pinch of salt (only 0.5grams), tiny trackers will show how the twites of the Derbyshire quarry live. For the first time it will reveal where this population of twites go as they seek food and shelter. It is hoped that this research will help scientists to understand more about the behavior of twites at this location, as well as what might help the species recover elsewhere in England.

The tiny technology has been designed to monitor the movements of the birds for less than a month before falling off as the birds molt. And trackers have only been used on male twites to avoid any disturbance to breeding females. 

Katrina Aspin, the RSPB’s twite expert said: "Although charming singers, twites have disappeared from much of England. So we are eager to learn more about the daily life of the twites at Dove Holes. If we can better understand how they are living we can look at what steps we can take to help twite populations recover elsewhere. And, importantly, as the quarry both expands and is restored we can ensure the right conditions remain so the Derbyshire twites can continue to call the area home."

The tracking information will help CEMEX plan the restoration of the Dove Holes Quarry, so that any work avoids important nesting sites. 

Andy Spencer, Sustainability Director, CEMEX UK said “Restoration of quarries gives nature a home. At this quarry, originally, five hectares of land around the quarry operations were seeded with a special flower-rich mix to ensure supplies of dandelion and sorrel seeds which the young Twites need to survive. Working in partnership with the RSPB has helped the survival of this rare bird. Tracking Twites will give us even more information to enable us to restore land to help them.” 

Two male twites have been fitted with tracking devices, and data will be collected over the next few weeks. For more information about twites please visit: www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/twite 

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Birds and wildlife Topic: Conservation