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Tits, Larks and Hirundines

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Coal Tit Periparus ater

The historic status of this species is unknown with certainty though there is some suggestion that it may have been rarer than today and has spread west as a result of afforestation. Clark (1906) remarked that he knew of no records from the Lizard peninsula. Currently it breeds regularly on the north Lizard and Croft Pascoe woods, and is fairly common anywhere north of Poltesco. On the south Lizard it is rare and records from there are almost as likely to be of the nominate continental race. However an influx of britannicus occurred in the autumn of 2020 with up to 4 recorded in the south Lizard area on 23rd Oct.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Coal Tit on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Marsh Tit Poecile palustris [BoCC5: Red]

Historically more widespread, though always scarcer on the Lizard than in east Cornwall. It is currently a resident but declining breeder around the Helford, formerly as far south as Poltesco. It is rare on the south Lizard, but two were recorded at Ruan Minor on 20th Jan 1964 and singles were seen at Church Cove on 9th Apr 1972 and Kynance Valley on 9th Apr 2000.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Marsh Tit on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Willow Tit Poecile montanus [BoCC5: Red]

The challenge of identifying this species means that its historic status is unknown and in fact the first positively identified record for Cornwall wasn't until 1936. Almost certainly it was always more common in the east of the country and is generally declining. On the Lizard, it was recorded as breeding at Penrose in 1948, but the observer later retracted the record. However, one was seen there on 28th Dec 1973. Another was seen at Goonhilly Downs on 8th Sep 1986.


Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus

Historically common particularly in wooded areas, with little evidence of a change in distribution or abundance. Currently a common breeding resident, generally less common on open heathland. Continental birds of the nominate race are known to have reached Cornwall on occasion, though being virtually indistinguishable from the British and Irish race obscurus, the status of the continental race on the Lizard is unknown.

Blue Tit, 10th November 2019. Tony Blunden

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Blue Tit on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Great Tit Parus major

Both historically, and currently, a common breeding resident found virtually ubiquitously across the Lizard, though rather scarce or entirely absent from the open heath;land areas.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Great Tit on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Penduline Tit Remiz pendulinus

Recorded, but awaiting details form the observor.


Bearded Tit Panurus biarmicus

A rare bird in Cornwall generally, though the species is prone to periodic irruptions. A bird obtained from Bosehan, just north-west of Manaccan pre 1834 was held in the collection of Humphrey Grills before it passed into the collection of I. P. Magor of Redruth. The only other records are of two at Gunwalloe Marsh on 13th-17th Mar 1982, with 1 on the 18th and 2 flying north in the Lizard Area on 13th Oct 1992, which were possibly the same as two seen at Loe Pool on 21st-22nd Oct 1992.


Woodlark Lullula arborea

Historically, quite widespread and locally common as a breeder across Cornwall, but underwent a sharp decline ultimately resulting in the disappearance of this species as a breeder from Cornwall, probably in part due to habitat changes following myxomatosis. In recent years numbers appear to have increased, likely in part due to the spread and increase of the species in Devon.


In 1947 a bird was seen and heard throughout the year at Gweek, implying likely breeding, but other than that record there is no evidence of historic breeding on the Lizard. Small parties were recorded in Dec 1949 and 1951 at Penrose. There was then a 29 year gap before the species was recorded as a migrant at Church Cove on 22nd Oct 1980 and since then, there have been periodic records of birds in Oct and Nov.


In 2003 a small wintering flock was discovered at Mannacan, and the south Helford has been a regular site for wintering flocks since then, though the species is probably overlooked as the flocks are not particular site faithful and occur in areas of farmland, notably daffodil fields, that are not regularly watched.


There is also one spring record: a bird between Kynance and Soap Cove on 7th Mar 1993 (B Cave).


Seasonal trends (left) and 5-year totals (right) of initial sightings of Woodlark on the Lizard Peninsula.


Skylark Alauda arvensis [BoCC5: Red]

Historically an abundant breeder and ubiquitously distributed across the Lizard. Changes in its status on the Lizard are uncertain but in common with other parts of the UK, it has probably been the victim of modernisation of farming. Nevertheless, it remains a common resident breeder. Numbers are supplemented by migrants, particularly in autumn, and by winter visitors.

Skylark, Porthleven, Apr 2021. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Skylark on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding and medium-sized squares probable breeding .


Crested Lark Galerida cristata

Historically more common in the southwest with five Cornish records in the 1800s, but only once since then: in 1965. The only Lizard record is of a pregnant female shot by Mr H. P. Hart in his garden at Polbrean close to Lizard Point (i.e. the Youth Hostel), on 12th June 1880.


Shore Lark Eremophila alpestris [BoCC5: Amber]

A very rare species in Cornwall generally, with just one Lizard record: a bird at Pistol Meadows on 14th-16th Apr 2007.


Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla

Rare, with just 6 records, all of singles:


1990: 6th May (Predannack).

1994: 9th May (Lizard Point).

1997: 3rd-7th Jun (Lizard Point).

2005: 9th-10th May (Lloyd's Lane) and 18th Oct (Lizard Point).

2008: 14th-15th May (Lloyd's Lane)

2011: 6th May (Predannack Airfield)

2012: 10th Oct 2012 (Old Lizard Head)

Short-toed Lark at Predannack Airfield, 6th May 2011 (Tony Blunden)


Sand Martin Riparia riparia

As a breeder, this species is thought to be experiencing significant ongoing declines. However, though its historic status is fairly well-documented, its recent status is less well-known, so the magnitude of declines is hard to quantify. Nevertheless, there are still colonies at Poldhu, Kennack Sands, Porthleven and Gunwalloe, though in 2021 no birds were observed at the Porthleven colony it the number of occupied nests and breeding success at other sites is undoubtedly quite low.


It was first documented as a breeder at Poldhu in 1903, and six occupied holes were noted in 1970. At Gunwalloe, it was first described, but as an `ancient colony' in 1936, and there were around 30 pairs in 1968. The Porthleven colony was well-studied in 1953s, and was known to contain at least nesting 14 pairs, some of which double-brooded. The colony was still occupied in 2019, birds were seen there sporadically in 2020, but none were seen in 2021.


It also bred at Lowland Point in 1982 and possibly at Church Cove in 2018. The highest count is of 550 at Lloyd's Lane on 6th Jul 2004. Extreme dates are 4th Mar (2011) and 4th Nov (2020).

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Sand Martin on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Swallow Hirundo rustica

Well-known from Cornwall since at least the 1600s, though the disappearance of this species in winter was the subject of much speculation. Carew (1602), for example, observed that "in the west parts of Cornwall, during the winter season, swallows are found sitting deep in Tynne-workes and holes in sea-cliffes", upholding the view, common at the time, that they hibernated in winter. It remains a common breeding and summer visitor, nesting in a variety of habitats including sea-cliffs. A growing number of birds are recorded as lingering into or returning in winter (though its presence deep in tin mines is unknown!). It has, however, been recorded in all months.


Winter records (singles unless otherwise stated) are:


1985: 12th Dec (Caerthillian).

1986: 4th Dec (Culdrose) and 22nd Dec (Helston).

1989: 21st Feb (Lizard area).

1992: 5th Dec (Loe Pool) and 15th Dec (Helston).

1993: 31st Dec (Lizard area).

1995: 4th Dec (Church Cove).

2006: 24th-26th Dec (Helston Sewerage Works).

2012: 19th-21st Jan (Helston), 2 31st Jan (Porthleven).

2013: 20th Dec (Kennack Sands).

2019: 10th Dec (Coverack).

2021: 16th Feb (Ruan Minor).


Swallow at Grade Marsh. Ilya Maclean

A Mr Baker of Mullion pointing to the site of a swallow's nest in the cave at Porth Pyg, near Mullion in c. 1903 or 1904.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Swallow on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


(Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris)

A probable seen at Lloyd's Lane on 5th Nov 2019 (B Cave).


House Martin Delichon urbicum [BoCC5: Red]

Historically, documented as being less common than swallow, but its status prior to 1900 is not well-known. In the early 1900s, its habit of nesting colonially on sea-cliffs attracted a degree of attention, with documented breeding at Gunwalloe, Mullion, Kynance, around Lizard Point, Church Cove and Cadgwith from 1903 onward. It is now more commonly found breeding on houses, but remains a fairly common breeder and summer visitor.


It is less likely to occur in winter that Swallow. Extreme dates for migrants are 15th Feb (2019) and 28th Nov (1974), though there are also two winter records: singles seen at Mullion on 17th Jan 1990 and Loe Pool on 8th-10th Dec 1991.


House Martin collecting nesting material at Housel. Ilya Maclean

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of House Martin on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding, medium-sized squares probable breeding and small squares present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Red-rumped Swallow Cecropis daurica

Rare with just 14 records, all of singles:


1990: 10th Apr at Kynance (B Cave).

2000: 8th May at Kynance (B Cave).

2004: 8th-14th Feb at Church Cove, Kennack Sands & Coverack.

2005: 3rd May at Grade Marsh (B Cave).

2008: 12th & 30th May at Lizard Village.

2009: 23rd May at Lizard Point, 4th Jun at Coverack.

2011: 2nd Apr at Lizard Village (T Blunden).

2012: 10th May at Loe Pool.

2016: 8th May at Gwavas Farm (T Blunden), 17th Jun at Little Treliever.

2018: 14th Apr at Housel Bay and 9th Sep at Kynance.

2019: 4th May at Lizard Village.

2022: 22nd Apr birds at both Porthoustock and Lizard Village, 16th Sep over Kynance Rd

Red-rumped Swallow Gwavas Farm 8th May 2016. Tony Blunden


(American Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonoya)

A probable was reported from Lizard Village on 24th October 2023 shortly after a major influx of this species to the British isles.

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