Silent dawn?

30th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

The dawn chorus in France is losing its voice. French scientists now warn that the country's most common birds, including house martins and magpies, are dying off.

Overall songbird numbers in France fell by 10 percent in the 13 years from 1989 to 2001, according to detailed and alarming data collected nationwide over the period by scientists at the Natural History Museum in Paris.

Of the 89 species of common birds observed across France in that time, 27 were found to be in distinct decline, including house martins, wood warblers, linnets, magpies and marsh tits.

The number of house martins, migratory birds whose arrival each year is welcomed as a sign of summer, has fallen by a staggering 84 percent over the same period.

The scientists put the decline in martins down to house owners destroying their nests to avoid having bird droppings on the front of their buildings.

The magpie is also suffering from human persecution. Officially classified as vermin, it is one of the few birds French hunters are authorised to shoot during spring when birds reproduce. Numbers have declined by 61 percent since 1989.

Songbirds, for whom grass seeds are an important part of their diet, including familiar birds such as the common sparrow and tree sparrow, have fallen victim to the human battle to eradicate "weeds" along roadsides and in fields.

Wood warblers have declined 73 percent, linnets 62 percent and marsh tits 59 percent.

Intensive farming and climate change have taken a particular toll on "specialist" species, which depend on a particular habitat, such as woodland or open countryside, the scientists said. "Generalists", which are able to survive in varying habitats, have tended to fare better.

According to France's Centre for Research on the Biology of Bird Populations (CRBPO), which carried out the 1989-2001 survey, climate change has affected birds in northern France more severely than their southern neighbours.

Global warming is leading to the reduction of the northern birds' habitats and numbers of willow tits, for example, have plummeted 47 percent.

And migrants which winter in North Africa, such as the willow warbler, have been severely affected by the drought which has hit that region in recent years.

Climate change may also be contributing to changes in migration patterns as shown with storks, which now arrive and leave France on average two weeks earlier than they used to.



20 June 2002

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