News that a flock of European bee-eaters has turned up in Norfolk – and appear to be settling down to breed – is guaranteed to delight Britain’s birders. Yet the arrival of these multicoloured birds has also caused concern. Why? Because it is a sure sign that the climate crisis is really starting to affect wildlife.
For us older birders, the bee-eater was a bird we saw only on holidays around the Mediterranean. But during the past few decades, their breeding range has shifted north by roughly 1,000 km (620 miles), because of rising temperatures. They now nest in France, Germany, Poland and Switzerland.
In 1955, three pairs of bee-eaters nested in a quarry in Sussex. This sparked the first national “twitch”, with more than 1,000 people coming from all over the country to see these exotic birds – although, in those pre-internet days, many received the news by postcard. There were no other breeding attempts for the rest of the 20th century; yet since 2002, there have been no fewer than six.
Although this may seem to be good news, it is also a clear sign that climate change is taking a grip on western Europe. In a final irony, as temperatures rise, scientists believe that the number of large flying insects may decline, leaving these pioneering birds with nothing to feed their young.