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European Breeding Bird Atlas 2: Distribution, Abundance and Change 2020. by Verena Keller, Sergi Herrando, Petr Voríšek, Martí Franch, Marina Kipson, Pietro Milanesi, David Martí, Marc Anton, Alena Klvanová, Mikhail V. Kalyakin, Hans-Günther Bauer and Ruud P B Foppen. European Bird Cencus Council & Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 967 pages, 568 illustrations, 1,357 maps. 5kg. ISBN 9788416728381. Hardback, €90.

Review by Frank Lambert

This book (EBBA2) is the culmination of a remarkable ten-year citizen science project, an incredible collaborative effort by the European Bird Census Council and its partners to document the current status of breeding birds across 48 countries. With data collected by 120,000 field workers in an area of 11 million km2, it provides detailed baseline information that will help focus conservation policy, actions and debate for years to come. Not surprisingly, the resulting book is massive, with contributions by a staggering 348 authors. It is a truly awe-inspiring piece of work for which those involved should be roundly applauded.

 
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EBBC2 is a very nicely-presented publication, written in a manner that is easy to understand, with original artwork peppered throughout, showcasing the skills of 46 artists. The book starts with  a large, clear topographic map inside the front cover showing the area of coverage and labelling the 49 countries that are frequently mentioned. Location of key mountain ranges and island groups are also shown.

 

The map reproduced here shows the area covered by EBBA2, which includes those countries wholly or partly shaded with different tones of green, the island groups in boxes, and islands in the western Mediterranean, Crete and Cyprus. [This particular map is based on the probability of occurrence of White Wagtail across the region].

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The taxonomy adopted for EBBC2 is that of the two-volume HBW-BirdLife species checklist (del Hoyo & Collar 2014, 2016), since this was considered to be the most widely-used taxonomy in an international context within Europe. The digital version used was V4 (Dec 2019). Some of the taxonomy may by unfamiliar to birders who use that of the International Ornithological Community (IOC). In EBBC2 Carrion Crow is lumped with Hooded Crow, Taiga with Tundra Bean Goose, and all redpolls are considered to be a single species. On the other hand, Siberian Chiffchaff is considered a good species.

 

The atlas is based on five years of field work (2013-2017) and various methods of data analysis, described in detail in the Introduction. Using field data collected in the preparation of the EBCC Atlas of European Birds (EBCC1: Hagemeijer & Blair 1997), it has been possible to investigate changes in distribution and abundance of breeding birds in the region. The book contains full species accounts for 556 species and 446 change maps. An additional 69 rare species are treated in an Appendix, which includes species that have bred a few times, along with a shocking number of non-native introductions.

 
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EBCC1 was based on a standardised approach and showed distribution on a map with grid cells. Data for that atlas were collected in the 1980s but was incomplete, especially for European Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, the Caucasian Region and the Macronesian Islands. To make the data from the two projects comparable, the same 50x50 km grids, and the same methods were used, whilst at the same time using new modelling approaches to present distribution on maps with a finer resolution of 10x10 square km where possible.

 
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As one would anticipate, this book has a very comprehensive Introduction. This describes the organisation and logistics of undertaking this immense project as well an important section on methods and analysis that describes fieldwork intensity from different areas. One chapter describes the patterns of distribution and change. There is an interesting section called ‘Species and habitats’ that has half page text boxes on the different regions covered by the work (e.g. Alpine Region, Black Sea Region, Anatolian Region).


Overall, the book covers 539 native and 57 non-native breeding species. Of these, 532 breed regularly and seven only exceptionally (e.g Allen's Gallinule, which bred in Malta in 2014). Forty of the breeding species are endemic to Europe, whilst 59 are near-endemic.

 
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The bulk of the book comprises the detailed species accounts. For the majority of species, there is a two-page species account (e.g. Eurasian Golden Oriole, Rock Pipit, Marsh Tit), but for others (e.g. Little Auk, pratincoles) there is only one page of text and maps. A few species that are less well-known, or very restricted in range get only half a page of coverage (e.g. Sociable Lapwing, Madeira Firecrest, Scottish Crossbill). 


 
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The text for each species focuses on describing the range and habitats utilised, as well as discussing aspects relating to any difficulties in undertaking survey work for that particular species.  For many species there is also some discussion of ecological attributes related to breeding, such as whether a species is a solitary or colonial breeder, along with explanations for likely causes of expansion or decline, where relevant. It is easy to read and understand, since it generally lacks any technical jargon.


For most species there are maps showing 'Abundance' and 'Change' in distribution between the field work carried out for EBBA1 and EBBA2. For some species there are also maps showing where 'Breeding Evidence' was obtained, and for those species where sufficient data was available, there is a map showing the 'Probability of Occurrence'. 

 
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The book demonstrates how some species have increased their range since the 1980s, such as White-tailed Eagle, Eurasian Spoonbill, Citrine Wagtail and Blyth's Reed-warbler, but obviously, not all species have fared well since the publication of EBBA1. For many species, the last 3-4 decades have seen significant declines in range and numbers. One species, Common Buttonquail, which was formerly common in SW Europe, was declared extinct in that part of its global range in 2018.


The twenty species with the highest losses between EBBA1 and EBBA2 include many agricultural and grassland birds, such as Red-footed Falcon, Great Bustard, European Turtle Dove, European Roller, and Ortolan Bunting. 

 
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The last part of the book is a detailed 'Species list with summary statistics', and a 46-page list of references. The species list is a quick way to find out if a particular species is increasing or decreasing it's range, or indeed stable.

 
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Whilst EEBC2 does provide some basic information about the threats faced by the many declining and threatened species that breed in Europe, it does not say much about the unavoidable threat posed by the Climate Emergency or make any predictions about what will happen to birds in Europe over the coming few decades. It would have been interesting, though obviously very depressing, to have a short chapter on this subject.

This may not be the most appropriate place to include predictions relating to climate change, but perhaps more could have been said. After all, this is probably the biggest threat faced by most life on the planet. Since birds are highly mobile, we might expect significant changes in distribution caused by factors such as climate change. The situation is of course complicated by many other factors, and it is not easily discernible why any particular species is changing its range. In the case of Whooper Swan though, it is almost certainly related to increased protection from hunters.

 
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The summary of findings under the title of 'general patterns of change' in the Introduction, condenses the findings down to four main points, two of which are that "the coldest regions (Arctic and Alpine) have gained the most species, and the warmest (Mediterranean) has shown a net loss", and that "Overall, the distribution of native species has consistently and significantly moved northwards since the last atlas".


Here, perhaps, are clear indicators of the insidious effects of a changing climate - the triggering of a northward shift in breeding distributions of some species. Amongst the species that are now known to be extending their breeding range northwards, are European Goldfinch, Eurasian Jackdaw, Common Firecrest and Cetti's Warbler. 

 
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Whilst this volume does not say much about the threats faced by birds in the region due to climate change, there are other documents where this sort of information can be sought, such as The State of the World's Birds: taking the pulse of the planet (BirdLife International 2018). The following is an except from this very useful overview of problems faced by birds worldwide. 

 
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Recent common bird population trends in Europe show a strong and consistent signal of climate change. Warm-adapted species (those whose distributions are projected to expand under climate change) have increased in abundance over recent decades, while cool-adapted species (those whose distributions are projected to contract) have decreased in numbers. The ratio of trends for the two sets of species – the Climatic Impact Index – shows a strong signal of climate change on bird populations over the last 30 years, with increasing values indicating that the overall impact of climate change on birds is growing. (BirdLife International 2018).

 

The European Breeding Bird Atlas 2 has been designed so that anyone can use it, from scientists and conservationists to amateur naturalists and birders. It contains large, clear maps, attractive artwork and readable text. Hence this is a great reference book for anyone interested in the distribution, changing status and conservation needs of breeding birds of Europe. It is an incredible piece of work, and I am enjoying dipping into the largest book I own to learn more about the birds on my local patch. 

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