Sheffield school hatches willow tit chicks in effort to help save species from dying out in UK

A Sheffield school has been taking part in a research project to help save willow tits from dying out in the UK.

By Alana Roberts
Thursday, 27 June, 2019, 17:03
The baby willow tits which have been ringed

Staff and pupils at Totley All Saints Primary School, have been on a mission in recent years to improve their wildlife area in a bid to encourage new species to their grounds.

The baby willow tits which have been ringed

By building a pond and adding various plants they have been able to attract a species of endangered willow tit endemic to Britain, meaning that it is not found anywhere else in the world.

And, as part of a research project, the school have also been able to hatch seven chicks using specialist nest boxes.

Ninety-four per cent of the national willow tit population has died out in the last fifty years, making them one of the fastest declining bird species in Britain.

In an effort to save the species the research project led by Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and British Trust for Ornithology and regional groups is taking place to find out the causes of the decline.

The baby willow tits which have been ringed

In Sheffield, the Sheffield Bird Study Group and Sheffield Council have been involved, with ornithologist Jim Clarke, of the SBSG, heading up the project in the Totley area.

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Jim has been working with Totley All Saints, along with Phil May of the Sorby Breck Ringing Group, to track the willow tits.

After obtaining a license British Trust for Ornithology, the group have been able to catch willow tits and put colour rings on their legs to help trace the movements of individual birds without catching them again.

Jim Clarke, of the SBSG, said: “The easiest way to do this would be to ring the young while they are still in the nest. However, willow tits have a unique nest that they excavate in rotten stumps of wood and it is impossible to get to the young.

“To get around this we use special nest boxes, designed by SCC Woodlands Ranger Chris Roberts, that look like the natural nest sites but have a lid so we can get the young out.

“One was placed at Totley All Saints, courtesy of the caretaker Sam Smith, and this proved to be the first successful one.”

The seven young willow tits have now been ringed, and as a thank you to the school and the students a ringing demonstration has been held.

Year 6 pupil Harry said: “I’m proud we’ve got the birds at the school. I’m happy we’re helping the population grow.”

You can report a willow tit sighting via Sheffield Bird Study Group’s website: https://www.sbsg.org/sightings/submit-your-records