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Somerset Kingfisher and Little Owl Survey 2016-2019

Somerset Ornithological Society has launched a new public wide survey investigating the abundance and distribution of two well-known but declining birds seen throughout Somerset: the Kingfisher and Little Owl.

Following on from findings of the Somerset Bird Atlas of breeding and wintering birds 2007–12, the survey aims to build a detailed picture from target and casual observational records into possible causes for decline, including climatic effects, habitat degradation and food resource depletion.

Kingfisher and Little Owl have been chosen for their ease of identification and accessibility across the county, allowing a wide ranging contribution from general birdwatchers, nature enthusiasts, school children and members of the public.

The survey shall start in spring 2016 to run for three years until winter 2019, with a review of the survey’s successes, areas for improvement and/or redirection following one year of completion.

Target species


A species that suffers in hard winters. A species protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, therefore nest sites should never be disturbed (unless carried out under licence by an experienced ornithologist) sometimes making it difficult to survey. The species is a good choice for a survey because it is so easy to identify, even for the more casual observer, with breeding disturbance considered highly unlikely due to the level of difficulty finding nest sites. It is also a good indicator of the health of rivers and streams, and enables us to include a wetland species. Maps from the Somerset Atlas of Breeding and Wintering Birds 2007-2012 are shown below (produced by DMAP software © Dr. Alan Morton).

Little Owl:

Has never fully recovered from the early 2000 rain and floods, so surveying this species should expand on the data provided for the Atlas. Should be widespread but a useful indicator species. Maps from the Somerset Atlas of Breeding and Wintering Birds 2007-2012 are shown below (produced by DMAP software © Dr. Alan Morton).


Birdwatchers and members of the public are encouraged to visit typical kingfisher and little habitat including rivers, lakes, wetlands, farmland and grassland or simply record the target species whilst out and about around the county.

Surveyors are also asked to note four other Somerset species of conservation concern observed: Yellowhammer, Spotted Flycatcher, Cuckoo and Wood Warbler.

A survey form can be download here. Paper forms are also available at a number of participating nature reserves around the county including visitor centres and hides.

Casual observations are also encouraged, however along with the species type, please try and include details of location, date, number, habitat, weather conditions and if possible, notes of any behaviour observed and any obvious habitat management and changes in the immediate surroundings.

Record submission

Please submit records in one of the following ways:

Send completed surveys forms to

Complete the column layout recording form and send to the address above

Submit paper forms within collection boxes placed within hides or hand in to participating visitor centres


Somerset Ornithology Society (SOS), working in partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust (SWT), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the National Trust (NT) shall be hosting a number of events throughout 2016 to encourage involvement throughout the wider community.

Event shall include guided walks, talks to societies, clubs and schools, ringing demonstrations, as well as stalls at summer events, including country fairs, fetes, shows and festivals. Please see the events section for further details


On completion of the survey running for three years, SOS shall produce a full report detailing methods, survey effort, personal observation from the wider public, results, mapping, analysis including relative abundance, conclusions and future recommendations.

Depending on the quantity and quality of the data, a paper based on the SOS report may be produced for publications along with a series of articles for relevant magazines.


Data gained through the survey should provide an insight into changes in population abundance and distribution and allow for basic analysis into habitat condition across key sites. It shall also be shared with the relevant bodies including British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Hawk and Owl Trust (HOT) and the Somerset Environmental Records Centre (SERC).

Information gained on habitat change over time will allow SOS to work in partnership with SWT, RSPB, HOT and Natural England (NE) to provide conservation advice for landowners across the county.

SOS is also hoping to launch a small conservation fund, made available to landowners and land managers contributing towards the survey, that wish to enhance areas for the target species, including:

Kingfisher: wetland habitat management, river bank improvements and artificial nests.

Little Owl: grassland habitat management and nest boxes.

Species records and map updates

Results of the survey, including up-to-date maps, shall be made available on the SOS website. Data gained shall also provide updates for population abundance since 2007, with scope for inclusion within a future Atlas.


The BTO's Project Owl is an ambitious initiative covering several years and including different schemes to study our owl species.  We “know" that owls are declining, but need some reliable data to support this, and to look in detail at the causes.
The first survey is the Tawny Owl Point Survey (TOPS), which will run between August 15th and October 15th this year, with the intention of repeat surveys in early spring 2019, autumn 2019 and spring 2020.  TOPS aims to cover a selection of tetrads (2x2km squares) throughout the British range of the species. Based on past survey coverage, a nationwide selection of target tetrads has been produced with two different levels of priority, ('higher’ and ‘lower’).  These tetrads are in pre-determined 10km squares in a regular pattern across the UK.  They were previously surveyed in 1989 and 2005.  The selected 10-km squares in Somerset are ST03, ST30, ST33, ST53, and ST63.  

The survey consists of two visits to a single point location, which is selected, by you, as close as possible to the centre of the tetrad. In most cases this will be the nearest public access to the centre of the tetrad, but ideally it should be within 300m of the actual centre, and will be the same for both visits.  Each visit should be during the two hours following sunset, and should last 20 minutes, which is split into two consecutive 10 minute recording intervals.  All you are asked to do is record the number of Tawny Owls you hearing hooting and/or calling during the first 10 minutes; then start again and record for another 10 minutes.  For each 10 minute interval you then estimate the number of different territories.  This methodology is designed to facilitate comparisons with previous surveys.  You should visit on a calm, dry evening, and also record the amount of cloud cover.  There's an option to record other nocturnal birds and mammals.  

All the necessary information is now online at including more information about the aims of the survey and the full instructions (click on survey resources).  If you follow the links you will get to the tetrad allocation system: you can select a tetrad to survey, which will generate a message to me so that I can allocate it to you; first come, first served.  Please do look a map carefully and consider access to the centre of the tetrad before signing up; if possible please choose a high priority tetrad if it is convenient for you.  The whole scheme runs online and you will be able to input your findings online; although paper forms are also available if required. 
For those of you who are nowhere near any of these tetrads, there will be a similar survey called the Tawny Owl Calling Survey (TOCS).  For this, you can visit any site of your choice (e.g. your garden, local pub or park) regularly through the winter to listen for Tawny Owls.  This will be launched soon, and I’ll send you details once they are available.  

Eve Tigwell
BTO Regional Representative for Somerset
WeBS Local Organiser -  Somerset, including The Levels 
Heronries Census Organiser - Avon & Somerset
Full details of all surveys on, or please contact me


Nightjar Pilot Survey 2019

We now have the data for the above survey, conducted jointly by the Society, BTO, Forestry England and the Blackdown Hills AONB. It was very successful and produced good results. A full survey is intended for 2020. For the results and methodology, click here.

Become a Member of Somerset Ornithological Society.