RARE birds are flocking to breed in Lancashire because of warmer winters.

A four-year study by the British Trust for Ornithology revealed that species such as avocets, little ringed povers, great spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches are now thriving in the the county, because of the climate, availability of food and good habitat management.

Dawn Balmer leads the Atlas Project study for the trust and compared recent findings with data from the last survey taken during 1988-1991.

She said: “Whereas in 1988 birds such as avocets were very, very rare in Lancashire, now they’re breeding and can be seen in many places.

“Our reaction to birds moving north is mixed. While it’s nice to see more birds coming to England from the continent, what happens to the birds native to Scotland if the weather there becomes more mild? Where will they go?”

Victoria Fellowes, of the Martin Mere wetland centre, Burscough, said the milder winter was also affecting the number of migrating whooper swans they had seen.

She said: “In winter the swans travel from Iceland looking for food, but if they find it in Scotland, they will stay there and not bother coming to Lancashire.

“In the last week there has been a colder snap, and we have seen the number of swans here increase from 1,400 to 1,900 because obviously the conditions weren’t suitable in Scotland anymore.”

Staff at Brockholes Nature Reserve, managed by Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said they had noticed a similar occurance.

A spokesman said: “Birds that tend to fly south from Scandanavia have overwintered in Holland because of the milder weather on the continent. This includes different types of swan and waxwings.

“It has been so mild that some birds are already nesting – tawny owl, collared doves and mistle thrush have been seen preparing their nests for spring.

“Quite a lot of bird activity has been helped by the numbers of insects around. We have seen hoverflies, wasps, bumblebees, ladybirds and even butterflies like the red admiral. Moths are also out early with a spring usher moth spotted at Winter Solstice.”

Keen bird-spotter Allan Rycroft, of Cliviger, near Burnley, has seen different bird species in the Lancashire area in recent weeks, including the desert wheatear, the glossy ibis and longtail tits.

He said: “It’s very unusual to get a desert wheater here, because as the name suggests, it’s used to desert conditions. Even when you do see them, it’s never in January.

“It’s also very usual to see a glossy ibis or a roost of little egrets, like I did last week at leighton moss.

“It’s also noticeable that a lot of birds are mating already, when usually that only usually starts in March.”

Eagle-eyed bird lovers can take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch at Witton Park, Blackburn, from 10am to 4pm on Sunday.

Staff will be on hand with helpful advice on identifying birds and how to feed and attract more wildlife to Lancashire gardens.