Recent population declines in Afro-Palaearctic migratory birds: the influence of breeding and non-breeding seasons


Correspondence: Catriona A. Morrison, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK.




Recent, rapid population declines in many Afro-Palaearctic migratory bird species have focussed attention on changing conditions within Africa. However, processes influencing population change can operate throughout the annual cycle and throughout migratory ranges. Here, we explore the evidence for impacts of breeding and non-breeding conditions on population trends of British breeding birds of varying migratory status and wintering ecology.


Great Britain (England & Scotland).


Within- and between-species variation in population trends is quantified for 46 bird species with differing migration strategies.


Between 1994 and 2007, rates of population change in Scotland and England differed significantly for 19 resident and 15 long-distance migrant species, but were similar for 12 short-distance migrant species. Of the six long-distance migrant species that winter in the arid zone of Africa, five are increasing in abundance throughout Britain. In contrast, the seven species wintering in the humid zone of Africa are all declining in England, but five of these are increasing in Scotland. Consequently, populations of both arid and humid zone species are increasing significantly faster in Scotland than England, and only the English breeding populations of species wintering in the humid zone are declining.

Main conclusions

Population declines in long-distance migrants, especially those wintering in the humid zone, but not residents or short-distance migrants suggest an influence of non-breeding season conditions on population trends. However, the consistently less favourable population trends in England than Scotland of long-distance migrant and resident species strongly suggest that variation in the quality of breeding grounds is influencing recent population changes. The declines in humid zone species in England, but not Scotland, may result from poorer breeding conditions in England exacerbating the impacts of non-breeding conditions or the costs associated with a longer migration, while better conditions in Scotland may be buffering these impacts.