Hope for insights into Slavonian grebe

Slavonian grebe. Image: RSPB Slavonian grebe have had one of their best breeding seasons this year

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New research is to be done into the behaviour of one of the UK's rarest birds.

Breeding pairs of Slavonian grebe can only be found in northern Scotland, according to RSPB Scotland.

The number of pairs has fallen to 22 - the lowest level since monitoring records began.

But this year has been one of the best breeding seasons with 17 chicks - six at Loch Ruthven where there were no young in the previous two years.

What made 2010 a good year for the birds remains unclear, but RSPB Scotland suspect a drier and less windy spring may have helped.

Stormy conditions can damage nest sites.

Stuart Benn, RSPB Scotland's conservation officer for the south Highlands, said there was much to learn about the birds' behaviour.

He said: "What is clear is that while populations are thriving in Iceland and Norway, things aren't going so well here.

"It would be good to find out why that is and what things we, as conservationists, could be doing to turn around the fortunes of Scotland's Slavonian grebe population.

"To do this we'll need to focus our research on key areas such as the role of weather and climate, when and why chicks die and compare our results with other countries whose populations are faring well."

Rafts are also to be built and placed on lochs to provide the grebe with potential nest sites.

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