6 ways climate change is impacting birds in the UK

Harry Bellew

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra, male and female swimming, Forsinard Flows RSPB reserve, Sutherland, Scotland

Climate change is one of the biggest factors impacting nature in the UK. The average temperature in the UK during summer has increased by nearly 1°C since the 1980s – with 8 out of the 10 warmest years occurring since 1990.

But how is this affecting British wildlife?

The newly released State of the UK’s Birds report highlights how the changing climate is affecting the distribution, numbers and behaviours of the UK’s birds.

Here are the top 6 examples.

1. Rare breeding birds face extinction

As the temperate increases and their habitats start to change, some birds are being forced to move northwards in search of a new home. Scientists predict that as a result some rare breeding birds, such as dotterel, common scoter and Slavonian grebe, are at high risk of extinction in the UK, as their homes here start to change and disappear.

2. New species colonies the UK

However, the warmer temperatures could be good news for those birds who only have a toe-hold in the UK. Species such as quail, little egret and hobby have already seen a substantial increase to their range in recent years, but experts believe the warmer weather will give them extra opportunities to colonise southern Britain as their home in continental Europe becomes too warm and dry. 

3. Birds stopping over winter

Traditionally birds, like blackcaps and chiffchaffs, spend their summer in the UK nesting and raising their chicks before heading back to southern Europe in September. However, with the warmer, wetter winters that the UK has experienced in recent years there has been an increase in birds spending the winter here instead of migrating south. Breeding numbers of blackcap and chiffchaff have more than doubled in this country since the 1970s. 

4. Struggling seabirds

Climate change is having a huge impact on our oceans. Not only are they changing the conditions of our seas, but are reducing the availability of food, such as sandeels. As a results of poor breeding success and low adult survival rate, both linked to climate change, the UK’s kittiwake population has declined by approximately 60% since 1986.  

5. Early arrivals and delayed flights

Swallows are a quintessential summer bird – you can’t truly prepare for summer until you’ve seen your first swallow dancing in the evening sky. These amazing birds migrate thousands of miles to and from southern Africa each year to nest and raise their chicks. On average these birds are now arriving 15 days earlier than they did in the 1960s, while delaying their return journey meaning they are spending up to 4 weeks longer in the UK each year.    

6. Eggs

It isn’t only migrant birds that are changing their behaviour because of climate change. One of our most familiar garden birds, and Big Garden Birdwatch top 10 regular, the great tit is laying its eggs 11 days earlier than 40 years ago. These major changes to behaviour are clear signs that even our common garden wildlife is being affected by the changing climate.


The State of the UK’s Birds report is produced by a coalition of three NGOs: RSPB, BTO and WWT, together with the UK’s statutory nature conservation bodies. Since 1999, it has been providing a one-stop shop for all the latest results from bird surveys and monitoring studies, helping to reveal how our bird life is doing. To see a full copy of the State of the UK’s Birds report, visit www.rspb.org.uk/sukb

More about The State of UK's Birds 2017

 Great tit, Parus major, on blossom

Uncover more about the latest report looking at how the UK's birds are doing!

Tagged with: Country: UK Topic: Birds of prey Topic: Climate change Topic: Conservation Topic: Garden birds Topic: Species conservation