Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

There was one ‘possible breeding’ record of Wryneck during this Atlas, a bird singing from the railway embankment at Inner Marsh Farm (SJ37B) on 4 May 2005. It was first noticed at 8 a.m. and left at about 12.45 p.m., not to be seen or heard again.

Our First Atlas quotes a few historical records of nests: in Cheshire about 1884 – although the species is mapped as ‘not breeding’ in Cheshire and ‘rare’ in Wirral in the last quarter of the 19th century (Holloway 1996) – and 1925; and in Wirral in 1934 and 1939. A second-hand report of breeding at Chelford in the 1971 Cheshire Bird Report seems never to have been substantiated. Since then, all of the birds in the county have been on passage, usually in autumn, with a few spring records. The bird recorded in this Atlas was apparently the first noted as singing since 1957 (Bell 1962).

Wrynecks used to be common in central and south-east England, breeding north to Durham and Cumbria, and west to Devon and Wales. The population declined to 150-400 pairs in south-east England by 1954-1958, 20-30 pairs in 1966, one pair in 1973 and none in 1974. There were then single breeding records in 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1985, 1986 and 1987, all in south-east England, and probable breeding in Shropshire in 1994. Meanwhile, a few pairs, presumably of Scandinavian origin, colonised northern Scotland and nested annually from 1969, peaking at seven pairs in 1977, then declining with sporadic breeding to 1999, but none since. Only odd birds have lately been found in the breeding season: just three birds were reported to the UK Rare Breeding Birds Panel in each of 2003 and 2004, with merely one each year heard singing (Holling et al 2007).

The species’ habitat was typically orchards or over-mature woodland close to unimproved but short-cropped grassland rich in yellow mound ants, their main prey. There has been no real explanation for their precipitous decline but suggested reasons include the grubbing-up of old orchards, loss of grassland, and pesticides killing most of the ants (Brown & Grice 2005).