Declining ducks: shorter migrations may threaten conservation efforts

The goosander, the goldeneye and the tufted duck are just three species of duck that escape the winters of northern Europe by migrating to the UK and Ireland. However, a three-decade International Waterfowl Census shows that the numbers arriving here are much smaller than in 1980, and that for some, this may be because the birds are staying north. Midwinter numbers of these duck species in particular have dropped in the UK and elsewhere (France, Switzerland), but have risen accordingly in Scandinavian countries. As winters warm in Scandinavia – early winter temperatures in south Finland rose by 3.8ºC from 1980 to 2010 – the birds find they don’t need to move as far south to find food in unfrozen lakes.

There are fears that the birds’ migration may end farther and farther north as the winters continue to warm – and eventually they will simply run out of room. This ‘stopping short’, as the truncated migration is called, means that the birds are spending more time outside the areas previously set aside to help protect them; this highlights the importance of international cooperation in species conservation.