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Cuckoo under threat, warns Iolo.

Byline: By Sam Burson Western Mail

The changing face of bird populations in Wales has been revealed in a major new study.

And it seems while we are now less likely to hear the iconic springtime cry of the cuckoo, more of us will get used to the rapping of the greater spotted woodpecker in our gardens.

Cuckoos numbers have decreased by 16% in Wales in just a year, and by 32% since 1994, according to the British Trust for Ornithology.

Yellowhammers are also in trouble, with a decrease of 11% since 2004, and a 44% decrease over the last decade.

However there is good news for the greater spotted woodpecker, numbers of which have gone up by more than 50% over 10 years as it becomes a common resident in many gardens.

The house sparrow was also found to be in the ascendency, and had also gone up in number by over 50% in 10 years.

More than 70,000 individual birds were counted in the survey.

No species was found to have declined by more than 50% over 10 years, but curlew, cuckoo, garden warbler, willow warbler, starling and yellowhammer showed declines between 25% and 50%. Increases greater than 50% were recorded for great spotted woodpecker, swallow, house martin, blackcap, great tit, jackdaw, raven, house sparrow, goldfinch, long-tailed tit, blue tit, nuthatch and treecreeper.

However despite good news for many Welsh birds, TV wildlife expert Iolo Williams last night said we should be concerned about some of our threatened species, especially the cuckoo.

He said, 'We should be worried about them.

'They're the symbol of spring and trying to hear the first one every year is always a little unofficial competition.

'But can you imagine in a few years if nobody can hear them at all any more?

'With the rate they're disappearing now we're looking at the possibility of having none left in 10 to 20 years.

'The real concern is that we're really not sure why their numbers are decreasing.'

He said he suspected the bird was having problems in Africa, where it spends its winters.

Increasing use of pesticides in African agriculture, as well as the increasing size of the Sahara desert were contributing, he believed.

And he said, 'You're also seeing less of the small, black hairy caterpillars here - the Siani Blewogs.

'The cuckoo is one of the only birds that's able to eat them, so those disappearing, as well as the number of moths going down, could be having an effect.

'The frustrating thing is we don't really know, so what can we do about it?'

And he added of the yellowhammer, 'I used to see them all the time when I was growing up around Lake Vyrnwy, so the fact that a colourful bird like that is on the decline is a great shame.'

He conceded the results were not all bad news, but said, 'Surveys like this always have ups and downs. Over the years, there's been so many massive changes made in the countryside.'

The BTO, in conjunction with Radio 4's Shared Earth programme, is now launching a new survey to find out more about great spotted woodpeckers and how they use gardens. Wales' declining birds: Curlew, right

Numenius arquata

Food - Worms, shellfish and shrimps

Call - A ringing 'cour-li' call; a bubbling, trilling song

Found - Estuaries, especially in North Wales

Maximum lifespan - 31 years

Length - 50-60cm

Wingspan - 80-100cm


Cuculus canorus

Food - Insects, especially hairy caterpillars

Call - A typical 'coo-coooo' from the male; a bubbling, chuckling call from the female

Found - Anywhere where it can pinch other birds' nests from March to August

Maximum lifespan - A mystery

Length - 30-33cm

Wingspan - 38-46cm

Willow warbler

Phylloscopus trochilus

Food - Small insects, spider, fruit and berries.

Call - Song is rich descending warble with a flourish at the end, and call is a disyllabic 'hoo-eet'.

Found - In or near woodland scrub

Maximum lifespan - 6 years

Length - Up to 11.5cm

Wingspan - 16-22cm


Emberiza citrinella

Food - Seeds and insects

Call - Song often written as 'a-little-bit-of-bread- with-no-cheeeese'; call is a sharp 'zit'

Found - Hedgerows, bushes commons.

Maximum lifespan -11 years

Length - 16-16.5cm

Wingspan - 23-29.5cm

Great spotted woodpecker

Dendrocopos major

Food - Insects, seeds and nuts

Call - A loud 'kik kik' call; rapid drumming sound

Found - Gardens, but also woodland and parks.

Maximum lifespan - 10 years

Length - 22-23cm

Wingspan - 34-39cm


Corvus corax

Food - Carrion

Call - A hollow-sounding 'kronk, kronk' or 'prrruk, prrruk'.

Found - Mountains, cliffs and crags.

Maximum lifespan -16 years

Length - 64cm

Wingspan - 120-150cm

House sparrow

Passer domesticus

Food - Seeds and scraps

Call - Chirping and chirruping

Found - As happy in city centres as it is on farmland.

Maximum lifespan - 12 years

Length - 14-15cm

Wingspan - 21-25.5cm

Great tit

Parus major

Food - Insects, seeds and nuts

Call - Song a repeated 'tee-cher tee-cher'.

Found in - Woodland, parks and gardens

Maximum lifespan - 10 years

Length - 14cm

Wingspan - 22.5-25.5cm
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 3, 2006
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