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The complete list of the avifauna of the Czech Republic was published in 1995. (Hudec et al. 1995: (The birds of the Czech Republic): Sylvia 31: 97-149 (in Czech with an English summary)). It names all the bird species recorded in the wild between 1800 and 1994. In the area of what is now the Czech Republic, 390 bird species have been recorded.
Of those, 186 were regular nesters, another eight were irregular ones. 14 more species nested only exceptionally, and with eight other species (the Great White Egret – Egretta alba, the Wigeon – Anas penelope, the Scaup – Aythya marila, the Smew – Mergus albellus, the Ringed Plover – Charadrius hiaticula, the Herring Gull – Larus argentatus, the Hawk Owl – Surnia ulula and the Citrine Wagtail – Motacilla citreola) nesting has been recorded only once. Six species nested in the country only in the 19th century (the Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos) or disappeared during the 20th century (the Lesser Kestrel – Falco naumanni, the Roller – Coracias garrulus, the Rock Thrush – Monticola saxatilis, the Lesser Grey Shrike – Lanius minor and the Woodchat Shrike – L. senator). Altogether 222 bird species have nested in the Czech Republic, of which the status is still unclear for three of those: the Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla), the Scops Owl (Otus scops) and the Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola).
184 bird species regularly migrate through the Czech Republic and 41 others migrate irregularly. Rare vagrants with less than ten sightings during the period include 79 species, 33 of which were recorded only once.
Regularly wintering birds include 133 species, 53 more wintered irregularly. (One bird species may be included in all three categories – as nesting, migrating and wintering birds, thus the total is lower than the sum of the three categories.)
Let us look at the changes of the past six years so that our overview can cover two centuries, ending in the year 2000. First of all there are seven new breeding species. In 1996, with the help of foreign experts, the nesting of (Aquila clanga) was unambiguously confirmed, as erratic determination of specimens of two fully-fledged nestlings shot at a nest near Pardubice in 1847 was uncovered. The Imperial Eagle (Aguila heliaca) first nested in the country in 1998 and then again in 1999 and 2000 at the same site in Southern Moravia. For the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans) the first breeding was confirmed in 1990 at the Nové Mlýny reservoirs. In 1999 the breeding of at least five, but probably seven, pairs was confirmed there. The breeding of one pair of this species was confirmed even for Třeboňsko in 1998. The nesting of one pair of the Little Tern was proven in 1995 near Karviná-Darkov. The successful breeding of the Scops Owl (Otus scops) was confirmed for the first time in 1998 in Bílé Karpaty. The breeding attempt of the Moustached Warbler (Acrocephalus melanopogon) was recorded based on sightings and the trapping of a singing male and discovery of its nest. Apart from that, there is a forgotten record of the breeding of the Wood Duck (Aix galericulata) which escaped from the Plzeň zoo and nested in 1978 near Bolevec. There is still some uncertainty in the nesting of the Baillon’s Crake (Porzana pusilla) and the Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola).
Of the group of the eight once-only nesting species, the Wigeon (Anas penelope) nested the second time in Northern Bohemia in 1997. Also the breeding of the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), now clearly distinguished from the Yellow-legged Gull (L. cachinnans), was reconfirmed for 1990. Thus, the number of breeding bird species in the Czech Republic rose to 227.
To the 33 recorded species in the Czech Republic, more have been added: the Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) in 1996 near Tovačov. the King Eider (Somateria spectabilis) also in 1996 near Nymburk, the Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) in 1997 near Bzenec and the Siberian Jay (Perisoreus infaustus) found as a stuffed specimen from 1968 in Vysoké Mýto. Thus the total number of bird species occuring in the Czech Republic rose to 394. If we include two newly approved species- the Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) and the Iberian Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus brehmii), it comes to 396.
By the end of the 20th century new quantitative estimates and population trends for individual bird species were updated. The following overview lists the most interesting changes within individual systematic groups.
A dramatic decline has been recorded in all regularly nesting Grebe species, the strongest decline in the Black-necked Grebe (at least by 50% in comparison to the 1970s).
Pelicans and allies (Pelecaniformes)
The Cormorant is the only regularly breeding species and its numbers declined from 599–682 pairs in 1989–91 to 319 pairs in 1994 and to 150–200 pairs (Martincová et al. 2000) at the end of the 1990s, the main reason being the allowance to hunt them outside of breeding season.
Herons, Storks and allies (Ciconiiformes)
Many species of this group, just like many other water and wetland species from other groups, declined dramatically. This applies to the Bittern and the Little Bittern whose numbers dropped to 20–30 pairs and 50–90 pairs in 1985–89 and their population has not recovered since. The same applies to the Purple Heron with 1–5 breeding pairs in 1990–94. The population of the Night Heron with about 400 breeding pairs is quite stable. The numbers of the Grey Heron are rising constantly (about 1400 pairs in 1993). The numbers of the Black Stork (200–300 pairs) and the White Stork (931 pairs in 2000) are quite high in comparison to other Central European countries, and Western European countries especially. Since the middle of the 1980s, the Spoonbill, a threatened species in Europe, has been nesting in the Czech Republic regularly.
The situation is critical with some species: the Teal - 150–250 pairs, the Garganey - 100–180 pairs, the Shoveler - 140–200 pairs. The Pintail and the Ferruginous Duck (last breeding recorded in 1988) may be considered extinct in this country. A population decline of 25–50% has been recorded in all other duck species with the exception of the Gadwall. The Red-crested Pochard with 160–180 pairs, has a stable population in the Czech Republic. Pleasing are the relatively high numbers of breeding Greylag Geese - 580–670 pairs in 1985–89. The breeding of the Goosander
was recorded for the fourth time.
Birds of prey (Falconiformes)
The situation of birds of prey in the Czech Republic has improved considerably, even if shootings of protected species are still recorded (such as the two cases of the White-tailed Eagle in the past few years). A stable population or a population increase has been recorded in most species. The most important is the small population of the White-tailed Eagle, a species endangered in Europe, with 10–15 pairs in 1994 and about 25 pairs in 2000. The Saker (5–10 pairs) reaches the northern limit of its breeding range in Northern Moravia, but in 1993 the
breeding area of the species stretched westwards up to the city of Znojmo, which was the western limit of the species’s breeding range back then. At the end of the 1990s, the species bred even further west right over the Czech Republic’s western border, in Germany. The numbers of the Peregrine Falcon, until quite recently a globally threatened species, have been rising as well. This species did not nest here before the 1970s, but its population grew to 10–15 pairs by the end of the century. Perhaps the only raptor species demonstrating a population decline in the Czech Republic is the Black Kite with 70–90 pairs nesting in 1985–89 and only 30–50 pairs nesting in 1994.
Fowl-like birds (Galliformes)
Practically all species of this Order (with the exception of the Quail, whose fluctuating population is peaking) show a population decline. Even numbers of such a common species as the Pheasant have dropped by about 50%. The situation of three threatened wood species is worth mentioning: the Capercaille with only 100–150 birds, the Black Grouse with 800–1000 cocks in 2000 and the Hazel Hen with 800–1600 pairs.
Cranes, Rails and allies (Gruiformes)
The wetland species of this Order show a fast decline, which includes common species such as the Coot and the Moorhen – a drop of 25–50% in the numbers of both species. The Common Crane, reaching its southern distribution limit in the Czech Republic, is an exception to this trend. It started nesting here at the beginning of 1980s and the population reached 10–15 pairs in 1999. A globally threatened species, the Corncrake counted 200–400 pairs in 1985–89; by 2000, its numbers rose to at least 1500 pairs. On the other hand, the Great Bustard will have to be included in the list of extinct species. It has not nested in the Czech Republic for many years, a single female was recorded wintering in Southern Moravia in the second half of the 1990s, but there are no wintering birds there now.
Shorebirds, Gulls and allies (Charadriiformes)
There has been a drastic decline in the numbers of waders inhabiting wet meadows. This applies to the Black-tailed Godwit (30–45 pairs in the second half of the 1990s), the Redshank (40–50 pairs in the second half of the 1990s) and the Curlew (most probably only two pairs in 2000), but also to the Snipe (at most 500 pairs in 1995–97). Quite similar is the situation with another species preferring a dry environment – the Stone Curlew, which rarely nests in Southern Moravia. The numbers of the Green Sandpiper have been rising since the early 1970s with the population reaching 15–30 breeding pairs in 1994. As for gulls, the population of the Black-headed Gull has declined by about 50%. On the other hand, the numbers of the Mediterranean Gull (25 pairs at the end of the 1990s) and the Common Gull (3–7 pairs at the end of the 1980s) keep on rising. The Black Tern numbers have declined by 25–50%.
The decline in the population of the Barn Owl is alarming (only 300–350 pairs in 1990) and there is a strong decline in the numbers of the Little Owl (500–1000 pairs at the end of the 1990s – Schröpfer 2000). Nevertheless, the populations of the Pygmy Owl (900–1300 pairs) and the Tengmalm’s Owl (550–800 pairs) are quite strong. In comparison to the rest of Europe, the Czech Republic has a very strong Eagle Owl population (600–950 pairs). Important owl species of mountain regions include the Ural Owl with 5–10 breeding pairs in the Beskydy and Šumava mountains. The occurrence of the species in Šumava is a result of an undergoing reintroduction programme.
Rollers, Kingfishers and allies (Coraciiformes)
The numbers of the Hoopoe are still quite low (60–120 pairs). With the fluctuating breeding range of the Bee-eater at the southern border of the Czech Republic, the country’s breeding population numbers are volatile as well. The population of the species has been growing since the 1980s, reaching its peak in 1996 with 115–120 breeding pairs and then declining to only 36–40 pairs in 2000 .
Woodpeckers and allies (Piciformes)
Reaching its western (and until quite recently also its northern) distribution range in the Czech Republic, the Syrian Woodpecker’s population grew to 300–400 pairs 1990–94. Another important woodpecker species is the Three-toed Woodpecker with 300–500 breeding pairs. The Whitebacked Woodpecker population counts 150–250 pairs. Both latter mentioned species have their western distribution limit in the Czech Republic.
Perching birds (Passeriformes)
One of the most important songbird species experiencing a declining population is the Tawny Pipit (40–80 pairs). At the northern limit of its breeding range, with only 15–20 pairs, the Alpine Accentor nests in the Krkonoše a Hrubý Jeseník mountains. The western limit of the breeding range of the Thrush Nightingale stretched to the Czech Republic in the past decade (first breeding in 1989). Two subspecies of the Bluethroat breed here – ssp. cyanecula with 190–210 pairs in 1994 and ssp. svecica with 30–40 pairs. The Greenish Warbler has been breeding in the Czech Republic since 1992 when its outermost southern and western breeding-range limit reached this country (1–5 breeding pairs each year). The Scarlet Rosefinch population has been spreading westwards and southwards, and so its numbers are rising (from 350–450 pairs in 1985–89 and more than 1400 pairs at the end of 1990s). The Ortolan is a rare and continuously declining species. It’s numbers apparently dropped from 200–300 pairs in 1985–89.
When reviewing the situation of the past decade (1991–2000) the results are as follows: of the 202 regularly nesting species (17 irregularly nesting and seven introduced or escaped species not included), populations of 31% of species are increasing, populations of 37% of species are declining and the remaining 32% of bird species populations are stable (Hudec et al. 2000).
The avifauna of the Czech Republic consists mainly of common, inland, typically European species. From the zoogeographic viewpoint, the country can be divided into two zones: the zone of broad-leaved forests covering most of the Czech Republic and the steppe zone covering part of Southern Moravia. Typical species of the Central-European broad-leaved forest zone include the Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and the Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris), while the Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) and the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) are typical for the steppe zone. Due to the geomorphology of the Czech Republic, two other zones are present here: the zone of boreal coniferous forests (taiga) and the zone of alpine tundra in the upper parts of high mountains. The Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum) and the Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) are typical species of the former, while the Dotterel (Charadrius mirinellus) and the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) are typical for the latter. Because of the Central-European location of the country, there are many species breeding at their breding range limits. The Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) breeds here at its northern and western breeding range, the Saker (Falco cherrug) at its northern (and until quite recently also its western) breeding range. The Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) and the Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) reach their southern breeding range limits in the Czech Republic.
In general, the country can be divided into three types of environment important for its avifauna. These are woods, wetland and agricultural landscape with fields and meadows. The woods cover about 33% of the area, and the most important ones are primeval and native forests in mountain regions with characteristic bird inhabitants such as the Ural Owl (Strix uralensis), the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), the Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus) and the White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos). Some areas are secondarily tree-less due to logging and forest die-out caused by air pollution. Such areas host some rare bird species such as the Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix) and the Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis). Open agricultural landscape with a mosaic of ecotones, solitary trees and bushes and scattered greenery along streams is important for Shrikes (Lanius sp.), the Ortolan (Emberiza hortulana) and the Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra). Wet, extensively managed meadows are important for the Corncrake (Crex crex), the Redshank (Tringa totanus) and the Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa). Dry fields host the Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and the Tawny Pipit (Anthus campestris). Wetlands – mainly fishponds and other shallow reservoirs serve not only as breeding sites of many water birds, but also as migration stopovers and wintering sites. For example, the reservoirs in Southern Moravia have held up to 100,000 geese over the past several years.
Karel Šťastný, Vladimír Bejček