A nightingale singing. Courtesy of Amy Lewis & British Trust of Ornithology

One of the UK’s fastest disappearing birds, the Nightingale, is back on Cambridgeshire turf and in slightly increased numbers, according to Anglian Water who have been surveying the birds again this year.

This spring, 15 nightingales have been located at the Grafham Water nature reserve, compared to 11 last year and 10 in 2012. It’s only a modest rise in numbers, but it does give hope to those involved in the joint study between Anglian Water and the British Trust for Ornithology.

Anglian Water’s Biodiversity Scientist, Mike Drew, said: “Nine males have been caught as part of our survey this year, seven of them are juveniles, which means they were born last year – possibly at Grafham – and have returned after an exhausting 3,000 mile journey to spend the winter months in Africa.

“We believe the numbers of Nightingales are slowly increasing because more wildlife areas are being properly managed to encourage their breeding, which is great news and why study’s like the one we’ve been running here are so important for the future of the birds.

“At just 21 grams in weight – about the same as a two-fingered KitKat – the migration must be exhausting. As part of the survey we collect lots of information about them, such as their weight, age and plumage, to see how they are faring.

Last year, data from tiny geotransmitters fitted to the birds in the first year of study shed light on their migration routes. Scientists hope a better understanding of their fly-routes will help target future conservation work across Europe to prevent numbers from plummeting further. Only 6,000 singing male1 nightingales remain in the UK, a decline of around 52 per cent since 1995.

Anglian Water employees, with help from the local Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust, have been out of bed early to listen for the songbirds and count the number that have returned to the nature reserve. The tiny birds complete their migration journey in around six weeks, and by March, embark on the arduous journey back to the UK to breed – often returning to the exact same bush or scrub as the year before.

Mike added: “When surveying it’s the male birds we can find. They have a rich and melodious song and make them more easy to locate. The female only gives off a croak and because of the bird’s elusive nature and colouring which means they blends into the habitat background, it makes them very difficult to spot.

“Males will sing through the night into the early hours of the morning to attract a mate and defend its territory from rival males. However, once they pair up with a female, he will stop singing. The female will lay 4-5 eggs, incubate them for 14 days and they it’s a further 13 day before the young fly then nest.

“Nightingales show remarkable tenacity and resilience, but a decline in habitat has taken its toll on the numbers and that’s why this project is so important to conservationists in the UK and all over Europe, and ultimately to the nightingale’s future.”

“These wonderful little birds are clearly in a lot of trouble and with the Anglian Water region so important to them, it is only right we do all we can to help their conservation.”

The Nightingale project is run by the British Trust for Ornithology, funded by Anglian Water.