Wetland Bird Survey in Ayrshire

Dave Grant, WeBS Coordinator, Ayrshire

The survey began in 1947 and today there are around 3000 volunteer counters who participate in synchronised monthly counts at wetlands of all habitat types, mainly during the winter period.

WeBS is a partnership between:

  • British Trust for Ornithology;
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds;
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee (the latter on behalf of Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Environment and Heritage Service for Northern Ireland) in association with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Whilst Ayrshire may not rival some of the larger estuarine areas within Scotland it does have 134km of coastline and numerous inland water sites which fall under the scrutiny of the WeBS. Click on the following link to see coverage within Ayrshire. There are 45 sites registered for Ayrshire and currently only 15 are regularly counted for WeBS, so there is plenty of scope for people to get involved.

WeBS Core Counts

WeBS Core Counts are made annually at around 2,000 wetland sites of all habitats. Monthly co-ordinated counts are made, mostly by volunteers. The principal months of data collection are from September to March although, increasingly, observations are submitted from the summer months also.

How do we collect the data?

  1. WeBS Core Counts are made using so-called “look-see” methodology (Bibby et al. 2000), whereby the observer, familiar with the species involved, surveys the whole of a predefined area.
  2. Counts are made at all wetland habitats.
  3. Numbers of all waterbird species, as defined by Wetlands International (Rose & Scott 1997), are recorded. In the UK, this includes divers, grebes, cormorants, herons, Spoonbill, swans, geese, ducks, rails, cranes, waders and Kingfisher.
  4. Counts of gulls and terns are optional.
  5. In line with the recommendations of Vinicombe et al. (1993), records of all species recorded by WeBS, including escapes, are collected to contribute to the proper assessment of naturalised populations and escaped birds.
  6. Species present in relatively small numbers or dispersed widely may be counted singly.
  7. The number of birds in large flocks is generally estimated by mentally dividing the birds into groups, which may vary from five to 1,000 depending on the size of the flock, and counting the number of groups.
  8. Notebooks and tally counters may be used to aid counts.
  9. Counts are made once per month, ideally on predetermined “priority dates”. This enables counts across the whole country to be synchronised, thus reducing the likelihood of birds being double counted or missed.

How do we record the data?

Once the data has been collected there are a number of ways to record it:

  1. Firstly, the traditional method has been to record your sighting on a hard copy WeBS form.  Once the seasons count have been completed the form gets sent to the Local Co-ordinator who passes on all of the information directly to the WeBS office at the BTO.
  2. The second method is one more in line with modern technology in that the individual records their observations directly onto the WeBS website.  This reduces the need for paper copies, cuts out expenditure on postage and allows the individual to use the website tools to look at things like distribution and number of birds seen for your personal WeBS patch.  We are encouraging people to use this second option but for those without regular access to the internet the first option remains open.

Benefits of on-line recording include:

  1. Paper free storage to record your sightings;
  2. Easy access to your data;
  3. Electronic quick searches of your data;
  4. Easy production of graphs with your data.

If you are interested in getting involved go to the WeBS website for further information or contact the local WeBS Co-ordinator.


  1. Bibby, C.J., Burgess, N.D., Hill, D.A. & Mustoe, S. (2000) Bird Census Techniques. Second Edition, Academic Press, London.
  2. Rose, P.M. & Scott, D.A. (1997) Waterfowl Population Estimates. Second Edition Wetlands International Publ. 44, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
  3. Vinicombe, K., Marchant, J. & Knox, A. (1993) Review of status and categorization of feral birds on the British List. British Birds, 75: 1-11.