Breeding bird survey 2019 on NIAB HQ Trial Grounds

12 Sep 2019

This year bird surveyors encountered at least 38 bird species breeding on the NIAB farm and trial grounds on the outskirts of Cambridge.

House sparrows back after more than decade

The big news coming out of 2019’s Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) of the NIAB trial grounds in Cambridge is that nationally declining house sparrows are back.

For the first time in 10-15 years retired NIAB staff member Bob Jarman recorded the chirpy house sparrows in suitable nest areas, although sadly it appears they didn’t breed this year. However, their appearance is good news for this declining and once-common species.

The aim of the BBS on the NIAB farm and trial fields is to assess the numbers of ‘red-listed’ birds. These are species that have declined by 50% in the last 25 years and show no immediate signs of recovery (BTO, RSPB, JNCC 2015), making them birds of the highest conservation concern.

Red-listed birds recorded on the NIAB farm and trial fields in 2019 were:

  • Grey partridge (2 pairs)
  • Yellow wagtail (2 pairs)
  • Linnet (5 pairs)
  • Yellowhammer (5 breeding territories)
  • Skylark (15-17 territories)
  • 1-2 meadow pipits were present but no breeding territories confirmed.

Other species recorded

Other notable species included a pair of reed warblers and a pair of territorial bullfinches. This year there were nine whitethroat territories, a welcome return to previous numbers after a disappointing 2018. The appearance of the similar lesser whitethroats (2 territories) reflected a larger than usual presence locally.

But it's not just birds that Bob looks out for on his 1km2 transects and other informal observations. He recorded roe deer droppings and evidence of badgers this year. In addition staff have noted a black (or melanistic) grey squirrel when the crossing the bridge over the A14.

The survey is carried out on behalf of local charity RedList Revival and is now into its sixth year recording the birdlife around our farm and trial fields in Cambridge.


Image acknowledgement: Rous (