Most people wouldn't turn their heads if they saw a twite. This humble-looking streaky brown finch whose only colour is a bright pink rump (and even that shows only in spring), closely related to the linnet, is a bird in need of protection as their numbers have dramatically plummeted in Wales and England in recent years. Rhian Pierce RSPB Cymru Conservation Advisor explains her fight for the twite in Snowdonia:
A little brown bird that needs help
Though they were never common, twites used to be relatively widespread in the uplands of North Wales. They are now restricted to the Nant Ffrancon and Llyn Ogwen areas of Snowdonia, where even here they have declined in recent years. A 2008 survey estimated only 14-17 pairs compared to 20-40 pairs in 1999. So the twite is a priority species for RSPB Cymru.
Twite - known as Llinos y Mynydd in Welsh - linnet of the mountain
How we’re helping bring back the twite
The twite recovery project has been underway for a number of years, showing local farmers how important their land is to the survival of the breeding Welsh twite population.
A number of farmers agreed to feed the twites with nyjer seed, boosting their natural menu. We’ve found that twites use these feeding stations throughout the breeding season. In 2015 the project was ramped up, with more advice and help given to the farmers.
Nant Ffrancon, Snowdonia
Twites are unique in that they are only eat seeds, and rearing their young on seed alone (many birds feed insects to their chicks). Traditional hay meadows are a valuable source of seed for the species. As well as providing food for twites, these meadows provide homes and food for a variety of wildlife, as well as being of agricultural value.
Due to the nature of the land in Snowdonia a number of farmers felt that their land was not suitable for mowing and baling hay. So we decided that on four farms we would use ‘grazing breaks’ - removing animals for 8-10 weeks to allow the grasses and flowers to flower and go to seed. The fields are then grazed as normal rather than mown for hay.
This meant that some new fences were needed to stop sheep and cattle getting into the fields. Some other areas were getting too wet for hay meadows and needed draining, while some parts were lacking the twites favoured food plants. So we’ve sown seeds to make sure that the fields are just to the twites’ liking.
The goal is to eventually remove the need for the nyjer seed. We’re monitoring the grazing breaks to see which plants grow, and how much the twites use them as a seed source. It will be interesting to see if less nyjer seed is eaten as the habitats improve.
Rhian, looking for twite food plants
With a little help from our friends
The British Trust for Ornithology has also worked closely with us on the twite project. They have carried out regular ringing at the feeding stations, and at their wintering grounds on the Dee Estuary.
The twites are caught and each fitted with a uniquely-numbered metal ring, and a combination of coloured plastic rings, so they can be told apart. Using this method, and combined with work carried out across England and Scotland, we know much more about the movements and behaviours of Welsh twites than ever before.
We now know that the same birds do not always return to the Welsh breeding grounds. But this mixing of genes from Welsh, Scottish and English birds helps keep the population healthy.
The community of farmers within the valley are making a real difference to this little brown job. By changing some of their farming practices, they’re playing a vital role in securing a better future for this small population of the twite. We thank them for that. And so will the twite!