Meadow Pipit Colour Ringing Project
Meadow Pipits are common breeding birds in the UK but surveys indicate the population has declined by around 38% between 1970 and 2005. They are relatively uncommon in Berkshire – most breeding birds being on the Downs with localised small populations elsewhere (eg Greenham Common). A substantial passage of birds passes through Britain in the autumn and to a lesser extent the spring, these are believed to be Scandinavian and Icelandic birds. Large numbers of birds winter in the UK but in Berkshire are low although higher than in the summer.
Over ¼ million Meadow Pipits have been ringed in Britain and Ireland but there have only been about 1000 recoveries/recaptures more than 5 km from where they were originally ringed. This low recovery rate is typical for small passerines. Data on wintering birds is especially poor and The Migration Atlas (2002) states:
There are some major gaps in our knowledge of the winter ecology of the Meadow Pipit. From Meadow Pipits ringed in Britain & Ireland in winter almost all the 82 recoveries have been within Britain & Ireland at all seasons, with the exception of three in autumn (two in the Low Countries and one in Iceland). Of the 20 recoveries of foreign-ringed birds made since 1909, none involved the winter period.
Meadow Pipits are winter visitors to Padworth Common. There are few if any records between November and March. A winter night time roost was discovered on the Common in February 2007. Subsequent checks have shown that the roost is present between October and March and numbers typically vary between 20 and 40 birds. Checks during spring migration have not found any birds at times when there is significant migration on the south coast so the roost doesn’t appear to be used by actively migrating birds. Even in winter, day time records of Meadow Pipits are rare on the Common – the first birds start to appear an hour or two before dusk when loose flocks assemble in pre-roost gatherings and are easily caught for ringing. Very small numbers of birds can occasionally be found during the day on nearby farmland and it’s likely that the Padworth roost draws birds from at least a few kilometres away.
As far as we have been able to find out there are no other known, or at least publicised, Meadow Pipit roosts in Berkshire. There isn’t a single reference to any roosts in the annual Birds of Berkshire reports between 1988 and 2003. The Birds of Berkshire (1996) gives no details of roosts but mentions 2 winter ringing recoveries in Berkshire of birds from Aberdeen and Clitheroe but gives no additional details. This suggests that at least some of the wintering birds are not local.
Between 2008 and 2010 we colour ringed birds caught in the roost with a unique combination of rings - a metal ring over a colour ring on the right leg and two colour rings on the left leg. Unfortunately these rings are difficult to see in the field and we stopped the colour ringing project. Each winter we still make a special effort to catch and ring these birds in an effort to get more information on their roost loyalty and on where they breed.