Peak District nestbox bung boost for rare pied flycatchers

More than 100 nestboxes have been ‘uncorked’ as Peak District rangers prepare for the return of a rare migrant bird.

Over 30 pairs of rare pied flycatchers arrive in the ancient oak woodlands at Padley Gorge, near Sheffield, from West Africa every spring.

To make sure there are enough nest boxes for the red-listed birds National Trust rangers stopper the entrance holes to 100 boxes in March to prevent blue tits and great tits from using the homes. Around 20 rangers and volunteers return in April to remove the bungs.

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National Trust ranger Mark Bull removes the cork bungs from pied flycatcher nest boxes in Padley Gorge, near Sheffield. CREDIT: David Bocking

The unusual conservation work has seen the number of pied flycatcher nests at Padley Gorge triple since 2000, with at least 128 chicks hatched in over 30 nests in 2016. Last week the RSPB’s State of the UK’s Birds’ report revealed that pied flycatcher numbers have halved since 1995.

Mark Bull, National Trust ranger, said: “The woods around Padley are one of the best places there is to see pied flycatchers, and it’s really nice to have a red data list species increasing here.”

Rangers are managing the woodlands to encourage the flycatchers and other wildlife, by trimming back some trees and reducing grazing in the woods by sheep and wild deer. A decline in traditional woodland management could be behind the drop in pied flycatcher numbers elsewhere in the UK.

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A male pied flycatcher, which boast black-and-white plumage, inspects a nest box after making the arduous migration from West Africa. CREDIT: David Bocking

Ranger Mark said: “It’s fantastic to know that we’re helping such a rare bird by using the bird boxes and by simple woodland management techniques.”

The rare pied flycatchers are around the size of a robin, with the males boasting distinctive black-and-white plumage.

One year Mark encountered an impatient male flycatcher waiting to move in. “I’d taken the bung out, and before I’d even got off the ladder he flew straight into the box. I think it must have been the nest he’d used the year before and he’d been waiting for me to let him in.”

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