Twite (Carduelis flavirostris)



Twite © Sue & AndyTranter

Twite © Sue & AndyTranter

In winter, Twites flock on seed-rich estuarine saltmarshes and other weedy lowland coastal areas. Those breeding in the Pennines move south-east to winter on the English east coast, and sometimes reach the Netherlands (Migration Atlas). Contrary to the statement in the BTO Migration Atlas, the Twites wintering on the coasts of Lancashire and Cumbria are now known to have bred in the Hebrides and western Scotland. The source of the birds in Cheshire and Wirral has not been proven, but they are also likely to be of Hebridean stock. Up to half a million pairs breed in Norway, and some of them are thought to winter in Britain. Many Twites have been colour-marked in recent years, so careful observation, or a programme of ringing, could establish the origins of the county’s birds.

During the three years of this winter Atlas the Dee saltmarsh tetrads yielded counts of 10, 20 and 45; and up to 35 opportunistically fed on football fields in Wallasey after westerly gales for a few days in January 2005. A flock of 13 was counted on stubble in SJ47G and birds were recorded in all three winters in the inner Mersey tetrads, with counts up to a maximum of 30. By far the largest flock was on rough grassland on 10 December 2006 near Frodsham in SJ47T.

This is a fairly typical showing for recent years, and indeed is probably quite similar to their status to any time in the last century. Coward (1910) said that Twites were ‘… in winter occasionally to be seen in the Dee estuary’, and Boyd never mentions the species in his Country Diary or Country Parish books. Bell (1962) suggested that it was under-recorded as there had been no report at any season for twelve years up to 1949. However, on the Dee estuary since winter 1956-57 flocks up to 200 strong began to appear in each winter, with just odd birds elsewhere in the county. Since then, there have been major fluctuations in their occurrence and numbers, with the Dee being the most likely location but with some periods of several years with none or only a few present.

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