Does Britain Have Any Endemic Bird Species?


The Scottish crossbill (Loxia scotica) is not only the UK’s only endemic species of bird, but also the UK’s only unique vertebrate.

It was first classed by the British Ornithologists Union as a separate species in 1960, and confirmed in 2006 due to its unique song; some say it has a Scottish accent! Further research by the RSPB has shown that Scottish crossbills may have a different size beak from other species of crossbills but the most important evidence has come from a long term study that shows that they only mate with other birds of the species. Although the Scottish and common crossbills nest in the same woods they do not interbreed.

Scottish crossbills are difficult to tell apart from the common and parrot crossbills that also reside in the conifer trees of Scotland as they have similar plumage and are of a similar size. Even the differences in song are so subtle that they need to be distinguished by sonograms.

It is thought there are fewer than 7,000 breeding pairs of Scottish crossbills although because of the difficulty in identifying it actual numbers are unknown. However, it is likely that the population used to be much larger but the destruction of Scotland’s native pinewoods has had a negative impact on its numbers. Global warming is also thought to be a threat to the Scottish crossbill.

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