The loud chirping of an invasive new Asian songbird threatens to dominate Britain’s dawn chorus

A tiny but noisy subtropical songbird could threaten Britain’s dawn chorus of native species like robin, warbler and blackbird, experts warn.

They say the red-billed leiothrix could emerge as a new invasive species in the UK and may soon become familiar in gardens, parks and woodlands as ring-necked parakeets.

These birds have rapidly increased in numbers since they settled in Britain in the 1970s.

Ornithologists are concerned that the highly invasive red-billed leiothrix, native to humid forests in subtropics Asiait may already settle in the south of England.

A new study has found that most sightings have been in Wiltshire and Somerset, although the bird has also been seen in Merseyside and Wales.

It raised fears that the species, also known as the Beijing robin and Japanese nightingale, may soon be established in the wild.

Invasive: Small but loud red-billed leiothrix (pictured) could threaten Britain’s dawn chorus of native species like robins and blackbirds, experts have warned

KEY FACTS ABOUT THE LEIOTHRIX FROM THE RED BILL

Originally from: Subtropical Asia, including southern China and the Himalayas

Appearance: Bright red beak, yellow-orange throat, olive green head and gray back

Song: Melodious and comparable to the native blackbird and robin of the UK

Dimension: Approximately 5.5 inches (14cm) in length

Food: Fruit, seeds and insects

Also known as: Pekingese robin and Japanese nightingale

For more than a century the red-billed leiothrix was brought to the UK as a popular caged bird, like parakeets, until it was banned in 2005.

A new study from the UK’s Center for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) suggests the bird may have escaped captivity, but it is not known whether it reproduced in the wild.

Over the past 20 years, the population in Europe has doubled and has established itself in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

The charismatic bird has a bright red beak, yellow-orange throat, and olive-green head and gray back, and its melodious song is comparable to the native blackbird, robin, or blackcap.

The researchers collected reports on social media and Google and found 16 sightings in southern England since 2019.

UKCEH ecologist Dr Richard Broughton, who led the study, said this could be an underestimate of the population.

He added: “If the red-billed leiothrix settles in Britain, it could soon become a familiar sight in our gardens, parks and woodlands, with their rich singing altering the chorus of dawn as we know it today.

‘Our study is the first real assessment of this species in Britain and raises awareness that the birds have been sighted in Britain.

This map shows the 10 sightings of red-billed leiothrix in Wiltshire and Somerset between 2019 and 2021. The circles indicate a single record and the squares indicate two records in the same location. Inset shows other sightings across Britain, including Brecon in Wales and the Wirral

This map shows the 10 sightings of red-billed leiothrix in Wiltshire and Somerset between 2019 and 2021. The circles indicate a single record and the squares indicate two records in the same location. Inset shows other sightings across Britain, including Brecon in Wales and the Wirral

The species is native to southern China and the Himalayas, and once established elsewhere, the birds have become an abundant and dominant member of the wild bird community

The species is native to southern China and the Himalayas, and once established elsewhere, the birds have become an abundant and dominant member of the wild bird community

LEIOTHRIC SIGHTINGS WITH RED HOLE
at your place Position habitat
10/02/2019 Rode, Somerset Garden
? / 07/2019 Horningsham, Wiltshire Garden
10/04/2020 Longleat, Wiltshire Garden
04/05/2020 Horningsham, Wiltshire Garden
30/05/2020 Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire Shrub
01/11/2020 Warminster, Wiltshire Garden
03/03/2021 Maiden Bradley, Wiltshire Garden
30/04/2021 Salisbury, Wiltshire Garden
03/05/2021 Longleat, Wiltshire Garden
05/05/2021 Frome, Somerset Garden
15/10/2020 Brecon, Wales Garden
? / 12/2020 Brecon, Wales Garden
06/16/2021 South East England Garden
11/11/2021 Sandwich, Kent Garden
01/15/2022 Wirral, Merseyside Garden
03/29/2022 deal, Kent Garden

‘The potential for red-billed leiothrix to establish here had seemed very low, but the group of records in southern England suggests we need to take it seriously as a potentially new invasive species.’

Experts warn that milder winters caused by climate change will make it easier for red-billed leiothrix to settle and spread in this country, while the prevalence of bird feeders in Britain’s gardens would give it a reliable food source to cope with. to any bad winters and weather.

The species is native to southern China and the Himalayas, and once established elsewhere, the birds have become an abundant and dominant member of the wild bird community.

Ecologists fear they may compete with native birds, such as robins, for habitat, living space and food, potentially harming their populations.

However, the new study makes it clear that more research is needed to establish the long-term effects of their introduction.

Dr Broughton says monitoring the red-billed leiothrix in Britain will be key to determining its prevalence in this country and has asked the public to report sightings through the British Trust for Ornithology’s. BirdTrack app or the iRecord app.

He added that the bird was “beautiful” but warned that “non-native species are never a good thing.”

The new study was published in the journal ibis.

WHY DO BIRDS SING?

Birds use their voices to communicate with other birds.

High pitched melodies are an efficient way to communicate over long distances, especially when you are small and live in dense habitats such as rainforests.

Most bird species use specific calls to identify themselves and to communicate a nearby threat.

Bird song is a specialized type of call used by many species to help them mate.

Almost exclusively a male activity, birdsong helps the singer indicate that he is fit, healthy and ready to breed.