Late spring is killing rare stone curlews in their Breckland strongholds

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Some of Britain’s rarest birds are dying in the fields of Norfolk and Suffolk, beaten by the struggle of the late spring.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on Wednesday reported the bodies of eight stone curlews have been found in Norfolk, Suffolk and Wiltshire.

The bodies weighed about 300g compared to a healthy weight of 450g and the charity believes the birds starved because they could not find food after their long flights from wintering grounds in Africa.

RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “The discovery of eight stone-curlews is a stark reminder of how fragile this species is. This amounts to around one per cent of the total UK population of these birds, but the total number of deaths is likely to be higher.

“Many of these birds are only here because of the dedication of farmers who have been creating safe habitats for them in key areas.”

But it is not just the stone curlews having a hard time, there are also reports of short-eared and barn owls being found dead.

Mr Harper added: “I can’t remember a spring like this – nature has really been tested by a prolonged period of very cold weather.

“We should be hearing the sound of chiffchaffs calling – a classic sign that spring is here – but that isn’t the case.

“Some may have stalled on their migration route, while for others the severe lack of insect food available means they are conserving what little energy they have.”

Winter birds like fieldfares, waxwings and redwings, which should be heading to northern breeding grounds, are still here in larger numbers than usual.

Birds like yellow hammers and reed buntings are still foraging on bird tables instead of being out in open countryside where they breed.

BTO chief executive Andy Clements (see page 12)said trust research shows the importance of feeding birds at the end of winter. “This is ‘hungry gap’ where things like spilled grain have been used up and the new seed plants haven’t yet grown,” he said.

The trust’s volunteers’ reports also show how few migrant birds have managed to make it back yet.

By now chiffchaffs should feature in almost 60 per cent of birders’ list but have been reported by less than 20 per cent and sand martins should be in 10 per cent and rising, but are in little over one per cent and falling.