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Warning on migrant bird numbers

The UK is in danger of losing some of the most distinctive sounds of summer, including the cuckoo's call, as migrant bird numbers plummet, a wildlife trust has warned.

The 2010 breeding bird survey, run by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), shows that eight out of the 10 species with the highest declines in numbers over the past 15 years are birds which migrate to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter.

Cuckoo numbers have fallen by almost half (48%) since 1995, wood warblers have seen numbers fall by 60% and whinchat and yellow wagtail populations have dropped by 55%.

The worst-hit species is the turtle dove, which has seen numbers fall by almost three quarters (74%) in the past 15 years - and last year alone saw populations slump by more than a fifth (21%).

The crisis also appears to be worsening for the nightingale, whose populations have tumbled by almost two-thirds (63%) since 1995 and fell by 27% in a year between 2009 and 2010.

Martin Davies, of the charity RSPB, said: "The cuckoo and the gentle purring of a turtle dove provide a comforting vocal backdrop to picnics and village cricket games. However, we are in danger of losing these sentinels of summer as the birds' populations have slumped since the mid-1990s."

The RSPB is warning that similar declines are being seen across Europe and species were at risk of "just disappearing off the map".

The list of 10 species with the worst declines in numbers since 1995 was dominated by migratory birds: the turtle dove, the wood warbler, the nightingale, whinchat, yellow wagtail, pied flycatcher, cuckoo and spotted flycatcher.

Year-round residents the willow tit and grey partridge declined by 76% and 54% respectively over the period.

The survey, which is funded by the BTO, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and RSPB, also revealed that kingfisher numbers fell by 39% last year, probably due to the freezing weather.

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