S.C. Madge with additions by G.D. Lewis and R.E. Parslow

Being the most obvious of our animal groups and at the top of the food chain, birds prove to be excellent indicators of detrimental changes in our environment. The devastating effects of pesticides in the 1950s and early 1960s became apparent with the demise of Sparrowhawks and Peregrines (both now recovered), marine pollution incidents are indicated by beached seabirds and now we are in the process of evaluating modern agricultural practices as numbers of our most familiar farmland species plummet downwards. Nevertheless, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are excellent places for bird-watching; 80% of the bird species recorded in Britain and Ireland have occurred in the region (Table 1). However, as might be expected from a maritime region at the western extremity of a continental landmass, the majority of these birds are non-breeding or rare visitors with a high proportion of vagrants.

Table 1: Total number of species recorded from Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Total species Regular breeders
Britain & Ireland 573 210 (37%)
Cornwall & Scilly 462 119 (26%)
Mainland Cornwall 420 114 (27%)
Isles of Scilly 423 61 (15%)


In 1931, the Cornwall Bird Watching and Preservation Society (CBWPS) was formed and has published its report annually ever since; the Isles of Scilly report became a separate publication in 1969. The formation of the Isles of Scilly Bird Group in 2000 has provided a replacement for the Scilly bird report with its annual publication, Isles of Scilly Bird and Natural History Review.

The region is fortunate in having a relatively recent, and well-researched, avifauna (Penhallurick, 1969 and 1978), which has provided a solid base for historical information. In addition Scilly has been especially fortunate to have had no less than three important reference works published in the past five years: Robinson (2003), Flood, Hudson & Thomas (2007) and Parslow (2007). Although the main reference for the Isles of Scilly is Flood et al., the breeding bird figures are mainly derived from the most recent surveys (Chown & Lock, 2002). These publications should be consulted for detailed facts and figures only sketchily outlined in the following pages.

This wealth of published information has not made it any easier to select species for inclusion in this book. I have taken species which breed or occur regularly in the country under the criteria set out in the British Red Data Book (Batten et al., 1990). Additionally, I have included a number of species which are nationally not uncommon, but which are rare in Cornwall, i.e. those species breeding or wintering on a significantly regular basis in not more than five 10km squares in the Cornwall since 1980. A number of species proved to be borderline cases, some have been included and others left out. The most notable of these omissions are listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Borderline bird species omitted from the RDB accounts.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus
Merlin Falco columbarius European Stonechat Saxicola rubicola
Osprey Pandion haliaetus Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Coot Fulica atra Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
Stock Dove Columba oenas Common Raven Corvus corax

BAP Species

Several species (Table 3) breed commonly or are widespread in Cornwall but are considered to be suffering a marked decrease over substantial parts of Europe (Tucker and Heath, 1994; BSGR, 1995)). Clearly these are species to watch for in the near future; some are already showing signs of a decrease in Cornwall. Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs) for the conservation of these species have or are being drawn up by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (see

Table 3: BAP species omitted from RDB

The following BAP species are of concern in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, but there is little data to indicate a change in status and are omitted from RDB accounts for the time being.

Brent Goose Branta bernicula White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons
Herring Gull Larus argentatus Turtle Dove Stretopelia turtur
Skylark Alauda arvensis Dunnock Prunella modularis
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
Marsh Tit Poecile palustris Starling Sturnus vulgaris
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Linnet Carduelis cannabina Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus

Table 4: Bird species showing a marked decrease over substantial parts of Europe

Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Swallow Hirundo rustica
Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
Skylark Alauda arvensis Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Song Thrush Turdus philomelus

Layout of the text

Estimates of both breeding and winter populations of each species in Britain and Ireland follow those given by Baker et al. (2006). For many species (e.g. plants), the number of 1km or 10km squares in which they are present is given; this has not been attempted for birds because they are highly mobile species with variable annual populations and distributions. Instead, information on distributions is given under the heading Regional Distribution. The vice county distribution (IOS, VC1, VC2) is given for breeding birds only (post 1980).

The heading of each species account includes a number of codes, the upper line indicates if the species is of European Conservation Concern, followed by its British Red Data criteria coding (if it is a Red Data species). Below this, the second line indicates the criteria for its inclusion as a Cornwall Red Data species. The following codes are used:

BAP Biodiversity Action Plan

BD Declining breeder

BI Internationally important breeder

BL Localised breeder

BN Nationally important breeder

BR Rare breeder

CR Cornwall Red Data Book

ECC Of European Conservation Concern (Uncertain Favourable Status)

RDB British Red Data Book

SC Special category

WI Non-breeding in Internationally important numbers

WL Non-breeding in Locally important numbers

WN Non-breeding in Nationally important or significant numbers

WR Non-breeding rarity

Gavia stellata Red-throated Diver

Gavia arctica Black-throated Diver

Gavia immer Great Northern Diver

Podilymbus podiceps Pied-billed Grebe

Tachybaptus ruficollis Little Grebe

Podiceps cristatus Great Crested Grebe

Podiceps grisegena Red-necked Grebe

Podiceps auritus Slavonian Grebe

Podiceps nigricollis Black-necked Grebe

Puffinus puffinus Manx Shearwater

Puffinus mauretanicus Balearic Shearwater

Hydrobates pelagicus European Storm Petrel

Egretta garzetta Little Egret

Platalea leucorodia Eurasian Spoonbill

Tadorna tadorna Common Shelduck

Anas penelope Eurasian Wigeon

Anas strepera Gadwall

Anas crecca Eurasian Teal

Anas rubripes American Black Duck

Anas acuta Northern Pintail

Anas querquedula Garganey

Anas clypeata Northern Shoveler

Aythya ferina Common Pochard

Aythya fuligula Tufted Duck

Melanitta nigra Common Scoter

Mergus merganser Goosander

Milvus milvus Red Kite

Circus cyaneus Hen Harrier

Accipiter gentilis Goshawk

Falco subbuteo Hobby

Falco peregrinus Peregrine

Perdix perdix Grey Partridge

Coturnix coturnix Common Quail

Rallus aquaticus Water Rail

Haematopus ostralegus Eurasian Oystercatcher

Recurvirostra avosetta Pied Avocet

Charadrius hiaticula Ringed Plover

Pluvialis apricaria European Golden Plover

Pluvialis squatarola Grey Plover

Vanellus vanellus Northern Lapwing

Calidris canutus Red Knot

Calidris alba Sanderling

Calidris alpina Dunlin

Calidris maritima Purple Sandpiper

Gallinago gallinago Common Snipe

Limosa limosa Black-tailed Godwit

Limosa lapponica Bar-tailed Godwit

Numenius phaeopus Whimbrel

Numenius arquata Eurasian Curlew

Tringa erythropus Spotted Redshank

Tringa totanus Common Redshank

Tringa nebularia Common Greenshank

Tringa ochropus Green Sandpiper

Actitis hypoleucos Common Sandpiper

Arenaria interpres Ruddy Turnstone

Rissa tridactyla Black-legged Kittiwake

Larus ridibundus Black-headed Gull

Larus melanocephalus Mediterranean Gull

Larus (fuscus) graellsii Lesser Black-backed Gull

Sterna sandvicensis Sandwich Tern

Sterna dougallii Roseate Tern

Sterna hirundo Common Tern

Uria aalge Common Guillemot

Alca torda Razorbill

Fratercula arctica Atlantic Puffin

Tyto alba Barn Owl

Athene noctua Little Owl

Asio otus Long-eared Owl

Caprimulgus europaeus European Nightjar

Dendrocopos minor Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Lullula arborea Woodlark

Riparia riparia Sand Martin

Anthus spinoletta Water Pipit

Saxicola rubetra Whinchat

Cettia cetti Cetti’s Warbler

Sylvia undata Dartford Warbler

Sylvia curruca Lesser Whitethroat

Phylloscopus sibilatrix Wood Warbler

Ficedula hypoleuca Pied Flycatcher

Poecile montanus Willow Tit

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax Cornish Chough

Carduelis spinus Siskin

Carduelis cabaret Lesser Redpoll

Loxia curvirostra Crossbill

Emberiza cirlus Cirl Bunting

Emberiza calandra Corn Bunting