Red List Twenty – Ring Ouzel

Male Ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus)

Dear Readers, this is an upland bird, and one that I’ve never seen in the UK, though some of you Northern folk might have had more luck. I did see one in Austria once, and was surprised by how much it looks like a blackbird with a white cravat – in fact the name ‘ouzel’ means ‘blackbird’, so the name makes perfect sense. The ones in the UK have spent the winter in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco – some will return to their territories here, but others will continue on into Scandinavia. What bright, elegant birds they are! I always feel delighted when I see one, even more so when I hear their song – the recording below, by Stanislas Wroza, is described as ‘song with outbursts’, and I can see what he means.

The female ring ouzel also has a white ‘necklace’ – in ‘Into The Red’, Stephen Lovatt describes it as ‘a rime of limescale’ and I can see what he means.

The ring ouzel is red-listed because of a decline in the breeding population in Scotland and Ireland, and it’s been difficult to pin down exactly why. One reason might be that migrating birds are hunted as they pass over south western France – birds flying along other routes don’t seem to suffer as much. But then there’s also degradation of habitat, and climate change – these are birds of the mountains, breeding up to 3750 feet, but as things get warmer they will be driven further and further up. Whatever the reason, their breeding range has reduced by almost 43% since the 1960s. However, Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey suggest another possible reason in ‘Birds Britannica’ :

‘Ring ouzels are unapproachable and unpredictable. A distressed bird can fly away for miles. Their susceptibility to modern disturbance, from hill walkers and even hang-gliders, may be instrumental in their disappearance from old strongholds across the entire Celtic fringe and northern England’.

And here is another conundrum for us to consider. What happens when ‘the right to roam’ comes into conflict with some of our most sensitive habitats and shyest creatures, on this nature-depleted island? We recently fenced off some areas in our local ancient woodland to give it a chance to recover after the trampling of the pandemic, and to talk to some people you would have thought that their basic human rights were being infringed upon (to be fair, most people did understand the reason for the fencing, but a sizeable minority could only think about themselves). What do you think? Clearly getting out into nature is vital for our mental and physical health, but where do we draw the line? Answers on a postcard please 🙂


8 thoughts on “Red List Twenty – Ring Ouzel

  1. itwasjudith

    I think we human are a pest and applaude the fencing off of area for safeguarding. Some people can only really think about themselves, with little care of any other concern

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    I think England and Wales have got it right with designated rights of way. Well trodden paths help even the most experienced walkers find their way, let alone complete novices, who are often I’ll equipped (in all senses!) The right to roam only leads to confusion.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I agree. Plus also we need a bit more control over dogs I fear, I’m reading all kinds of things about dogs disturbing ground-nesting birds in nature reserves. I love dogs, and I appreciate that there are not so many areas where they can run free, but so many owners seem to have no control over their dogs.

      1. itwasjudith

        Dogs are, due to the poor control of their owners, a big problem. Just at the weekend we saw a dog roaming like a mad bullet in an iron fenced no-go area of the Hampstead Heath. That’s bad

  3. kaydeerouge

    I’m disappointed to say that despite living in very north Northumberland – I’ve never seen one of these birds – perhaps one day.
    But I share your concerns about the right to roam v. protecting wildlife. At this time of the year, parts of our beautiful local beaches are fenced off (just small parts!!) to allow breeding birds like ternsto nest safely. Saintly souls volunteer to monitor these places and sadly – almost inexplicably to me – describe being completely ignored on occasions by walkers and their dogs who march into the fenced off areas despite being asked politely not to. Those poor vulnerable little tern nests!


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