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Dartmoor ring ouzel survey

The 2016 'light touch' Dartmoor ring ouzel survey was undertaken by Fiona Freshney of the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre on behalf of the funder, Devon Birds and the South West Regional Office of the RSPB. Local bird enthusiasts have also contributed sightings and survey effort to ensure the survey is as comprehensive as possible. This is the seventh consecutive year that this threatened population of Dartmoor ring ouzel, a nationally declining species, has been surveyed. The initial three years of intensive survey provided a clearer picture of the size of the population, its breeding range, favoured breeding habitat and the breeding success rate. Surveys also collect data on the challenges the population faces in terms of predation, habitat suitability and human disturbance. A small-scale nestling ringing programme has been undertaken since 2012. The re-sighting of birds ringed on Dartmoor has shown that at least some of the birds do return to the Moor to breed and often to the same location.

Devon Birds and other funders have been keen to see the monitoring continue as it is hoped that from the research practical solutions such as habitat manipulation can be found to help maintain the local population and ultimately promote a larger more robust Dartmoor population. RSPB, Devon Birds and partners have subsequently initiated trial habitat management areas to determine whether improved nesting habitat can be created on the Moor.

During the initial years of the survey between 10 to 12 breeding pairs of ring ouzel were located, the majority based on the north moor. Since then numbers have dropped with only 7 or 8 definite breeding pairs found; in 2016 only 7 pairs were located. This worrying trend is counterbalanced by some positive findings. This year a pair of ouzel bred at an historic breeding site not used for several decades and a further pair were found at a brand new site where they successfully raised 4 chicks. Both sites contain ‘good’ ouzel habitat so it is hoped that maintaining and improving nesting habitat may well be key to their conservation on Dartmoor. 

Late season records of ring ouzel are still welcome. Please send to Devon Birds at

Further information about the Project can be gained from Helen Booker, Senior Conservation Officer, RSPB:

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