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Emberiza cirlus (Chirping Bunting)
1,000 pairs by 2020, around ~860 today.
About 3,129,600,000 base pairs of DNA.
A small, wet reptile (~310,000,000 years ago)
I should be sequenced because...: Super interesting ecology and fragmented distribution. Was it a genetic quirk that brought Cirl Bunting here?
It’s very likely that Cirl Bunting appeared near Salcombe, Devon in the early 1880’s. Little is known about the first records of Cirls in England, but they were described here by George Montagu (Who has lots of other species named after him today, including Montagu’s harrier) in 1802.
We know from ringing studies that Cirl Bunting on the continent are much more likely to make long distance movements in response to seasonal food shortages or habitat loss than here in England. It is therefore likely that our birds are the direct decedents of some pioneering (or lost!) birds from central Europe. The origin of these birds would be a great question to attempt to answer with a fully sequenced Genome.
In England Cirl Bunting numbers have fluctuated since 1802. Shortly after their discovery, Cirls started to spread across the south as far as the Thames valley just outside of London. By the 1930’s however the population began to crash. Today Cirl bunting have kept a small foothold in Devon, just outside of Kingsbridge, and have been reintroduced into Cornwall. There are currently around 860 pairs (which is still very low for a bird in the UK. For comparison there are around 6 million pairs of Robin), but the RSPB has set a target of 1,000 pairs by 2020, is it doable?.
Interestingly, the English Cirls do not really behave in the same way that their cousins on the continent do. In Devon/Cornwall birds hardly move at all. However, The Longest movement undertaken by a Cirl Bunting in England was ringed in Sussex in 1975 and caught by another bird researcher in Fife almost a year later – that’s 642km.
The differing ecology and fragmented population means that the gene flow (breeding between groups) might be an issue in future, especially in the smaller groups. There are lots of birds that have a similar broken up world distribution and face similar problems. Genetic work could tell us more about both why the ecology (behaviour!) is different between the groups but also, if they are two groups at all.
The cool drawings on here are thanks to friend of the Cirl Bunting, Matt Sewell, and if you’re still interested, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have loads of Cirl Bunting stuff on their websites.