The greatest European birds?

By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons


I think the following 11 bird species are the only ones which breed in every one of the EU’s 27 countries:

kestrel, quail, moorhen, swift, swallow, house martin, reed warbler, spotted flycatcher, chaffinch, greenfinch, linnet.

My source of information is ‘Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status‘ which was published in 2004 and therefore may be out of date. I’m a bit surprised that it doesn’t suggest that house sparrow and collared dove breed in Malta but maybe they tried to and were shot.

Spotted flycatcher was a surprise to me – as was reed warbler.

It was, of course, good to see that my least favourite bird was in the list (although I love linnets to bits really!).

If Malta allowed a few more birds to nest then the list could grow a bit.

When Croatia joins the rest of us in July 2013 the list won’t change at all but if the five official candidates for EU membership (Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey) are accepted at some stage the list will change dramatically.

If Iceland becomes an EU member then only swallow and house martin (I think) will bind the EU together and of course those two species aren’t in Europe all through the year.  So the future accession of Iceland will mark the first year, and assuming that it occurs on 1 January if it does happen, the first day, in the EU’s history when there has not been a species of bird found on that day in all Member States.

We end 2012 with a mixture of nature (birds in this case) and politics (the EU in this case).  The fate of the former depends very largely on the latter – and remember that we are all in charge of politics in this democracy.

2012 was a good year for me with a book published (well-reviewed and even selling a few copies), my first ever pine marten, my first rough-legged buzzard for years, sightings of minke whales and lots of fun along the way.  It was a poor year, for me, for butterfly sightings and I didn’t see a little owl or pied flycatcher all year.

I hope 2012 was kind to you and thank you for reading this blog which has had over 50,000 unique visitors in 2012.

Please come back tomorrow and through 2013 – until then, Happy new Year!


By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

16 Replies to “The greatest European birds?”

  1. Fascinating, bit surely the Spotted Flycatcher could possibly not feature on these shores? I thought I read the number of breeding birds in the UK is declining? I’m shocked about LO’s Mark, I won’t say how many nesting/breeding sites I know of in Northants as I’m a bit guarded about locations but I feel Northants and Leics are perhaps LO’s strongholds in this country. If you’re desperate there is one image in my little owl folder at that is sat on a road sign 🙂 Shouldn’t be to hard to find….

  2. Mark, happy new year and thank you for all your efforts running the blog. I’m amazed that you can post another link on New Year’s Eve. Your range of topics I find staggering, how you come up with 365 different daily subjects I do not know ! Come and see our Little Owls this year as we are very fortunate to have several long term residents whom I see in the same trees all year.

  3. Happy New Year Mark, I shall certainly be visiting your blog and look forward to the postings.

  4. Think you had a very good 2012 Mark and predict a great 2013,one of the easier predictions.
    Can only second what Julian says.
    Surprised Jays,Wood Pigeons and Redstarts were not on the list.

  5. Happy New Year- your blog (and FFB) was one of the discoveries of last year! That’s a beautiful kestrel. Don’t seem to see as many of them as I used to do.
    Thanks also for your email.
    Am sending bird to PBMS

  6. The surprise for me in the list was Quail. For me 2012 was a good year I saw 216 species of bird in the UK without lots of twitching and none outside the county, of which two were new and three were firsts I’d seen in the UK. I achieved an ambition I’ve had for a long time of going to Fair Isle with a colleague who felt just the same about going, we enjoyed it so much that we will go again in 2013. I saw Essex Skipper for the first time in many many years, saw Silver Washed Fritillary, a major omission on my butterfly list, whilst working in Hampshire.
    On the down side I failed to see several relatively common birds and butterflies due in part to the weather, worst of all was it was the first year since 1984 that I failed to see an English Hen Harrier in potential breeding habitat. The only ones i saw were at Blacktoft Sands in the harrier roost, for that I cannot forgive the grouse shooting industry.
    I read some great and not so great books, not all natural history, one of the best was FFB, well done Mark. This blog has kept me thinking and not just waht Mark writes so a happy new year to you all

  7. Birdlife Malta’s checklist has Collared Dove as a breeding species as well as Dabchick and Cuckoo but the latter two are listed as Very Rare Breeders “few records not yearly”. Quail is also listed as Very Rare breeder.
    Let’s hope that in future the list will be shortened only by “the Iceland scenario”, i.e. the accession of new states to the EU and not because any of the species has ceased to breed in one or other member state.
    It was an interesting puzzle to finish off the old year with!
    Looking forward to seeing what 2013’s blog will bring us.
    Happy New Year, Mark and to all of your readers.

    1. Jonathan – thanks very much. I’m glad you liked the puzzle – quite puzzling though wasn’t it?

  8. Mark, I may be opening a can of worms here, and I realise that your statement was probably said ‘tongue in cheek’, but for the Maltese to simply ‘allow’ more birds to breed is only one part of a much bigger picture.

    For example the geography and geology of the Maltese islands are not conducive to large numbers of breeding birds. Firstly, Malta is the most densely populated place in Europe, but more importantly Malta is simply a lump of limestone in the middle of the Med. There is no fresh water or rivers, the only fresh water comes from underground. Vegetation is very, very sparse, large areas of trees are virtually non existent. During the summer when the wind blows from the south, Malta can effectively become an extension of the Sahara desert.

    How do I know this? Well, although I am Wiltshire, born and bred, my mother is Maltese. However, this does not mean that I condone what the hunters do. Far from it. Every article I read about the situation in Malta is like a knife in my heart.

    I would, though, like to highlight the absolutely amazing work of Birdlife Malta. I am adamant that they will reach their goal in the end. Whether this will be in time to save the turtle dove and quail et al, I do not know.

    Also, I don’t know if this effects your figure of 11 breeding species, but Malta had their first breeding blackcap record this summer. A small victory, I know, but a victory non the less, and I bet it was down to Birdlife Malta.

    1. Nick – yes that’s perfectly fair. BirdLife Malta is a great bunch of courageous conservationists.

      I relied on the BirdLife publication I cited as my information for Malta. Blackcap appears to be absent as a breeder from Cyprus too – but is found throughout the other 26 EU countries. Collared dove and house sparrow on Malta would add two species to the list.

      I’ve never been to Malta – would you recommend it as a holiday destination for a UK resident interested in birds…?

  9. Well Mark, disregarding the birds for a moment, Malta is an absolutely amazing place to visit. It is steeped in history and culture. I liken Malta to the Tardis; it is very small but seems so wonderfully large when you’re there. There is so much to do and see and it is not a party island, which is a big plus point.

    I highly recommend that you go there. Bird wise the best time would be during migration times because Malta’s list of passage migrants is huge. A word of warning though; do not stray onto land that belongs to the hunters. Malta’s people are very warm and welcoming (especially to the British), but the hunters are a different breed. They are beset on all sides by people wanting them to stop and they will not be in the mood for lobster coloured Brits prowling about on their land with bins and scope.

    It would be best to stick to the nature reserves at Ghadira and Is-Simar. Any other open land is likely to be farmed and therefore hunted. And don’t for a minute think I’m joking, steer clear of them at all costs and you will do fine.

    It would really make me happy if you did go. Then you could post on your blog what Malta is really like and that not every Maltese is a hunter. Also you would see the good things that are being done and that not all hope is lost.

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