Harvesting as a tool for avian translocation

WWCT Paignton Zoo - 3rd Oct, 2017

Paignton Zoo aimed to develop a method of harvesting and hand-rearing wild cirl bunting nestlings and use this method to establish a self-sustaining population in Cornwall. 

Our aim was to develop a method of harvesting and hand-rearing wild cirl bunting nestlings and use this method to establish a self-sustaining population in Cornwall. This is the first time such a method has been used to re-introduce passerines to their former range.

Historically, cirl buntings were common in southern Britain particularly along the south English coastline. Due to changes to farming practices and urbanisation the species is extinct in most of its former UK range and limited to south Devon. Isolated pockets of suitable habitat limit the potential for the species to expand its range naturally. The key UK BAP objective for cirl bunting is to establish other populations in southern England. Hence, in 2000 a plan was conceived to re-introduce birds from Devon to Cornwall.

From 2001 to 2005, a few birds were harvested each year and brought to Paignton Zoo to develop protocols for rearing, fledging, weaning and releasing. Once our strict success criteria were being met we began working in Cornwall. From 2006 to 2011 we harvested, under licence, over 70 birds annually. The chicks were taken from wild first clutches in Devon, cirl buntings are double clutched and often fail with early broods. These were transported to aviaries in Cornwall, hand-reared and released. 

In 2013 there is a Cornish cirl bunting population numbering over 80 birds, which has not been supplemented since 2011. Many of these birds have been wild-bred in Cornwall. The population in Devon has maintained good numbers throughout the harvesting period.

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