Project Twite feeding

The following group(s) participate in this project:

David Sowter

The Twite is a small finch, associated in the breeding season with moorland and upland farmland. Currently ‘red listed’ as a bird of serious conservation concern, the UK population is about 10,000 pairs, 90% of which are found in Scotland. The population range has dramatically contracted in recent years, as have wintering counts of the species.

The most significant breeding population in England is centred in the South Pennines (estimated at 200-400 pairs) where this study is based.  CJ WildBird Foods donate nyjer seed which is put out by volunteers at a number of feeding stations on the high moors and at coastal wintering sites.  Birds are caught and colour-ringed at these feeding stations by licensed bird ringers.  At the end of 2006 over 3,000 Twite had been ringed, including 345 nestlings.

Colour ringing is also taking place in Scotland and much of the volunteer effort is focused on looking for colour-ringed birds at various sites throughout the year.  The study has already caused some revisions to existing knowledge about the populations and movements of these birds.  As is often the case, the more we learn, the more we realise how little we know!

A number of ringing groups have joined in the project in order to spread the area covered. These include the N.Lancashire, S Cumbria, Mid-Lincs ringing groups and Dingle Bird Club.

Local birders have regularly reported colour-ring sightings and flock sizes. Land owners have allowed access and been supportive and in one case this has already led to stewardship funding for land management to favour Twite.

Key questions for the ringing study:
• Where do members of pre-breeding flocks breed?
• Do chicks return to natal areas to breed (natal philopatry)?
• Post-fledging dispersal – how far do they go?
• The use of feeding stations as a conservation tool.
• Where do they winter?
• Is there any mixing with other known populations?

A few things we have learned about pre-breeding flock dispersal:
• Birds ringed at feeding stations in the pre-breeding season don’t necessarily breed in nearby colonies.
• Birds return from wintering grounds in large flocks and then disperse to widely scattered colonies.
• These breeding colonies could be long distances away (in this case, at least up to 28km).
• Feeding stations can be important supplemental food sources outside the breeding season for several different colonies that may be widely dispersed.

How can you help?
There is still much to learn about the migration routes of this species…
• There are certain areas in particular where we lack eyes and ears:
        Breeding areas in the North Pennines.
        Wintering areas on the North-east coast.
• Please actively look for colour-rings at breeding/wintering sites.
• It would be very helpful if ringers could colour-ring Twite at wintering sites in the north east of England.

Contact details David Sowter : Raine :

• United Utilities, the principal landowner, asked David Sowter to set up the project and have provided financial and logistic support.
• CJ Wildbird Foods have generously provide the nyjer seed, without which this project could not have taken place.
• English Nature (now Natural England) have provided practical support by loaning radio tracking equipment and supporting Andre’s PhD.
• The RSPB have often acted as a link between birds and the project and have provided publicity and advice.
• All the birdwatchers who have reported colour-ring sightings and flock sizes.

Papers arising from this project
Raine, A.F., Sowter, D.J., Brown, A.F. & Sutherland, W.J. (2006)
Natal philopatry and local movement patterns of Twite Carduelis flavirostris.  Ringing & Migration 23, 45–52.

Raine, A.F., Sowter, D.J., Brown, A.F. & Sutherland, W.J. (2006)
Migration patterns of two populations of Twite Carduelis flavirostris in Britain. Ringing & Migration 23, 89–94.

Raine, A.F. (2006) The breeding ecology of Twite Carduelis flavirostris
and the effects of upland agricultural intensification. PhD thesis, University of East Anglia.


Colour ringing project - [30-10-2006] - (70.5 KB)
Colour rings chart - [30-10-2006] - (2.95 MB)
Movements - [30-10-2006] - (645.5 KB)