HAVE you heard a cuckoo’s call recently?
If so, you are one of the lucky few, because the distinctive birds are rapidly declining in Kirklees.
Nationally the birds have been listed as the most threatened, by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
Tim Melling, a conservation officer for RSPB in Denby Dale, said he hasn’t seen or heard a cuckoo in Denby Dale for almost five years.
He said: “That doesn’t mean they are totally gone from the area, but they are in decline.
“I was up at Stocksmoor the other day and I saw a cuckoo – it called for about 10 minutes and then vanished.”
The popular Marsden Cuckoo Day is held every April and marks the beginning of spring.
According to local legend, the villagers realised that when the cuckoos arrived, so did the sunshine.
So they tried to prolong the bird’s stay by building a wall around its nest.
Mr Melling believes that spring coming early is causing the rapid decline.
The Shepley man said this is ultimately down to climate change.
He explained: “The cuckoos usually arrive in England from Africa in mid-April.
“I’m sure people will have noticed that spring is getting earlier and earlier these days.
“Resident birds such as the meadow pippits can adjust and lay their eggs earlier.”
Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and so timing is critical.
Mr Melling added: “If they lay their eggs early – and there isn’t a full clutch of about four or five eggs, the other bird will realise that there’s an alien in the nest and reject it.
“If they do it too late the other chicks will hatch earlier and will be fed, and the cuckoo might starve.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Many birds that are declining throughout England are surviving in local habitats.
Mr Melling said: “The yellow hammer is still holding it’s own in the Denby Dale area.
“Certainly I know of at least half a dozen, and they’ve also been seen around Castle Hill.
“They like mixed farmland which we still have in the area so the yellow hammer is doing okay.”
The lapwing is surviving in local habitats with both arable farms and pasture providing sources of food.
House sparrows and starlings are also doing well in areas such as Shepley.
Mr Melling pointed out that Kirklees was one of a handful of boroughs that still saw twites.
“They can be found in moorland areas like Marsden and Meltham and they feed on seeds in traditional hay meadows.”
Nationally, one in five of the UK’s bird species have been ‘red listed’ by the RSPB, meaning they are of the highest conservation concern.
Dr Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director, said: “An increasing number of charismatic, widespread and familiar birds are joining the list of those species most in need of help; this is scandalous.”