A rise in forest birds, a decline in steppe species and six new parrots are some of the conclusions of the second edition of the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Catalonia, whose summary has just been released. It reveals some interesting details.
In broad terms, the new biogeographical distribution of birds reflects the changes in the Catalan landscape over the last 20 years, since the publishing of the first atlas in 1983. Woodland birds have generally gained from increased forested land, as have wetland species which have benefited from the much improved water quality at many sites. The urban sprawl throughout Catalonia has also favoured town and garden birds such as the Eurasian collared dove, up by 1,000%. Most birds of prey have also benefited from better protection against poisoning and traps, though some such as Bonelli's eagle still suffer disproportionately from electricity pylons. The population rise of birds like the tawny pipit is possibly due to lands opened up because of forest fires.
On the downside, most of the species typical of Lerida's pseudosteppes or non-intensive farmland have suffered dramatic declines since the last atlas census. This is a Spain-wide problem, which has prompted SEO, the Spanish Society for the Protection of Birds, to name a steppe bird (the great bustard) as its bird of the year to highlight their plight. Here in Catalonia, the Generalitat is studying the possibility of creating a natural park in Lerida to protect an area steppe habitat and its birds. Other factors cited are the decline in traditional agriculture and intensive use of pesticides which are doing away with the habitat and food of many species. Catalonia has lost 20% of its agricultural land since 1993.
22 new species of birds have moved in and begun to breed here since 1983. Some of this is good news, such as the flamingo which is back in the Delta del Ebro and the purple swamp-hen, both of which have returned to the region on their own wings. More worryingly though is the arrival of 13 invasive exotics which have escaped or been released into the wild. These include six of those cacophonic parrots and parakeets we have all come to know so well in Barcelona. Although they add a streak of colour and fun to the city's dull litany of pigeons, sparrows and seagulls, they can cause serious problems as they expand out into the country. The monk parakeet has already crossed the second urban ring and is poised to take on the surrounding farmland. Monks are making forays into the fields of El Prat, where farmers claim they are causing considerable damage, before returning to the safety of their city nests. Worldwide the bird is said to be responsible for millions of euros of damage, particularly in the US, and the report warns that something should be done before their population explodes. Evidence of crop depredation by monk parakeets dates as far back as the Incas, and Charles Darwin was even aware of the problem in Uruguay in 1833, though the amount of real damage is probably exaggerated because of their raucous and rather noticeable presence.
The second edition of the Atlas was carried out with the help of some 250 volunteer birders covering 385 quadrants measuring 10km by 10 km. The full atlas is set for publication in December.
Checklist of some of the species mentioned in the text
Eurasian Collared Dove ( Streptopelia decaocto ) -Tórtola Turca (Sp) -Tórtora Turca (Cat)
Boneli's eagle ( Hieraaetus fasciatus ) -Águila-azor Perdicera (Sp) -Áliga Perdiguera (Cat)
Tawny Pipit ( Anthus campestris ) -Bisbita Campestre (Sp) -Trobat (Cat)
Great Bustard ( Otis tarda ) -Avutarda Común (Sp)
Monk Parakeet ( Myiopsitta monachus ) Cotorra argentina (Sp) Cotorreta de pit Gris (Cat)
Purple Swamp-hen ( Porphyrio porphyrio ) Calamón Común (Sp) Polla Blava (Cat)
Much, much more information here (in Catalan)