Upland songbird research

Diagnosing declines and testing solutions for upland songbirds

Male Whinchat in tree


Ring ouzel, whinchat and twite are species of high conservation concern in the UK due to long-term declines in their breeding populations. Our work on these species begins with diagnosing the causes of decline. For long-distance migrants such as ring ouzel and whinchat we may need to consider possible effects across breeding, migration or wintering areas, or a combination of these. When we have sufficient understanding of the causes of decline we can trial solutions for their recovery. 

For ring ouzel, we know that on their UK breeding grounds they require taller vegetation in which to conceal nests, and they forage for invertebrates in shorter, grassy areas in spring, and exploit dwarf-shrub areas for moorland berries in late summer. We are now experimentally deploying management on two of our reserves to deliver this mosaic of habitats and are examining the response of the local breeding populations.  

For twite, the decline has been particularly severe in England, and here we are trialling solutions within a recovery project in the Pennines. This involves targeting of conservation measures close to breeding sites to increase resources of important seed foods and monitoring the performance of breeding birds.  

For whinchat, our diagnostic research is currently focussing on the association between habitat quality and population change on UK breeding grounds.  


  • To recover numbers of ring ouzels through appropriate habitat manipulations.
  • To determine the efficacy of trial intervention measures to increase key twite food-plant species.
  • To diagnose the causes of decline of whinchat breeding in the UK uplands.

Key Dates

  • 2013 - Trial management for twite commences within recovery project.
  • 2015 - Trial management for ring ouzel introduced to experimental sites on RSPB reserves.
  • 2016 - First confirmed ring ouzel breeding record in one of the trial sites since 2006.
  • 2016 - Initial monitoring of the habitat and bird response to twite recovery measures.
  • 2016 - Diagnostic research for whinchat commences on upland breeding areas, including a number of RSPB reserves.

Planned Work

  • Ring ouzels - monitoring of the response to trial management will continue in 2017.
  • Twite - analysis of habitat and bird responses to recovery measures.
  • Whinchat - diagnostic research continues in 2017.



  • Natural England support our work on ring ouzel and twite through the Action for Birds in England agreement.


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Innes Sim

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

Coast on a stormy day

Dr David Douglas

Principal Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

Coast on a stormy day

Nick Wilkinson

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

Tagged with: Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Heathland Habitat: Upland Species: Ring ouzel Species: Twite Species: Whinchat Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research