Saturday, 13 March 2010

Plastic Fantastic?

A short local trip to Etherow park this morning got my mind thinking about a subject that has been a hot topic for birders and naturalists for quite some time now...So called "Plastic Birds".
Plastic is a term I happen to dislike and refers to species of birds here in the UK, which are non native or introduced species or escapees living in a feral state.

Last week, Greater Manchester County Bird Recorder Judith Smith was interviewed by John Craven on the popular BBC Television programme Countryfile about the plight of the Ruddy Duck in the UK.
The Ruddy Duck is a beautiful looking bird that was introduced to private Wildfowl collections in Britain in the 1930's, but escapees meant that this native North American species soon bred into many thousands.

The Duck's soon spread into mainland Europe and the real problem started when they arrived in Spain where they successfully bred with the critically endangered White Headed Duck creating hybrids which damaged the survival chances of the White Headed further more.

In 2003 a decision was made based on research by leading scientists, European Governments and major Conservation organizations to eradicate the Ruddy Duck from the UK to try and save the White Headed Duck in Spain.
A very difficult decision and one backed by the RSPB, but with UK numbers of Ruddy Ducks said to be down to around 400 and only a handful of migrant birds making it to Spain every year from these shores, should we be reconsidering the cull?

The White Headed Duck conservation effort in Spain is a great success story and one that the Spaniards are very proud of (comparable to the Red Kite in Britain) but surely with so few numbers arriving from the UK we should perhaps now be thinking of giving these birds a stay of execution.

Now what has all this got to do with my trip to Etherow Park you may ask!
Well Etherow is a stronghold for the beautifully exotic Mandarin Duck...Like the Ruddy, a introduced species (from China) but one that over the years seems to have been unofficially excepted on the British List.
Another species that can be seen at Etherow is the Egyptian Goose...Quite a rare sight in the North of England, but fairly widespread in Norfolk.
I think the Egyptian is now regarded as a 'tick' by many birders in Norfolk, but curiously not in my home County of Greater Manchester.
This time last year, there was only one Egyptian Goose at Etherow, now there are four...As far as I know they have not been introduced, so they must have arrived from elsewhere in the UK.

The Mandarin Duck, Egyptian Goose and even the very familiar Canada Goose are all regarded as "Plastic Birds" by British Birders and are classified 'No Status' by the RSPB.
The Canada Goose is as common a sight as a Mallard on British lakes, while birders will travel great distances to catch sight of Mandarin Duck and Egyptian Geese.

These particular so called plastic birds are (no matter how they got here) now very successful wild birds in their own right and I'm wondering if it's now time to reclassify them and officially accept them as British birds?

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