Wales

Study finds rare ring ouzel doing well in Snowdonia

Ring ouzel
Image caption It is not yet known why numbers of the ring ouzel are declining in the UK

One of Wales most endangered birds is faring better in Snowdonia than elsewhere in the country, say experts.

The three year study of the ring ouzel was carried over miles of challenging terrain, with experts using birdsong recordings to attract it.

The bird, also called the mountain blackbird, prefers life on craggy and remote slopes.

One researcher found 25 bird territories high on Cadair Idris in Snowdonia.

Dave Smith used recordings of birdsong to prompt resident birds to reply.

"There was a lot of work with many miles of walking," said Mr Smith, 42, from Dolgellau.

He conducted his part of the survey in his spare time, searching hills and mountains above 250 metres which is where the birds make their home.

Julian Driver, from Llanfairfechan, also took part in the survey, finding 160 territories of the bird, according to Birds in Wales, journal of the Welsh Ornithological Society, which has published their findings.

It says the men "walked hundreds of kilometres over three years" to survey the birds, which has a distinctive white crescent across its breast.

The birds are called ring ouzels and their Welsh name is "mwyalchen y mynydd", which translates as "blackbird of the mountains". They are said to be an upland cousin of the garden blackbird.

They spend the winter in the Atlas Mountains in north Africa before flying to Wales, northern England and Scotland to nest among crags and rocky slopes.

Declined

The latest survey found their greatest concentrations on the slopes above the passes of Nant Ffrancon and Llanberis in Gwynedd.

A survey of ring ouzels in 1999 estimated the UK population at around 7,000 pairs, and subsequent surveys suggest that, in some areas, numbers have declined by up to 70%.

In some parts of Wales, and across the border on Shropshire's Long Mynd, ring ouzels have died out.

Another UK survey is planned for 2012 which is hoped to provide a better understanding.

The results from latest north Wales study feeds into the UK Ring Ouzel Study Group which co-ordinates monitoring.

"It's great to have some good news about these wonderful birds," said group chair Chris Rollie.

"We still don't know enough about what makes them tick, though studies by the RSPB point towards problems faced by young birds between leaving the nest and making their first journey to north Africa."

The Welsh Ornithological Society along with RSPB Cymru is organising a conference next month called 100 Years of Bird Conservation in Wales.

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