Birds come to isles in droves
By RYAN TAYLOR
HUNGRY birds that thrive in wooded areas have been flying to Shetland in search of food.
Record numbers of the two-barred crossbills started arriving from as far off as Russia in the last three weeks.
Having first made an appearance in Fair Isle, they have since gained strength in numbers at Sumburgh Head and are now making an appearance in the north isles.
The birds, which sport two prominent white bands on their wings, have been flying in from Russia’s northern forests, where they fed from the cones of larch and spruce.
Which may make their arrival in Shetland something of a puzzle – if the birds could not find enough larch to feed on in their homeland, they are certainly not going to find a better feeding environment here.
RSPB area manager Pete Ellis said the birds would soon adapt to the local environment, and would fly off in a number of weeks anyway.
“They’ve been arriving in record numbers. The biggest flock was 18 at Sumburgh Head which was completely unprecedented,” he said.
“They’ve been arriving in Shetland for the last two to three weeks. The first one was spotted in Fair Isle, and then from the middle of last week other groups have been arriving.”
Mr Ellis said at the last count there were nine in Fair Isle, as well as the 18 at Sumburgh. But he said other two-barred crossbills had been arriving in Fetlar, Yell and the north mainland.
Deprived of the seeds they would normally take from larch and spruce cones, the birds have proved their willingness to adapt to their new surroundings by feeding on wild plants such as thrift and hogweed.
“They’re not going to find much larch, but when they are outside of their areas they tend to adapt and feed on what they can find,” he said.
“They’ll keep moving for a feed, and over the next month or so they will start to move further south.”
Scientifically known as Loxia leucoptera the two-barred crossbills have also been spotted in Orkney and the Western Isles.
One has even been reported as having been spotted in St Kilda.
Although not regularly seen in Britain, a large influx of two-barred crossbills was seen in the early nineties, when 23 birds arrived on UK shores.