Study Group




About Ring Ouzels


Ring ouzels are confined both as a breeding and wintering bird almost exclusively to the Western Palearctic.

There are three races:

  • torquatus of northern Europe (Britain, Ireland, Fennoscandia and Brittany)
  • alpestris of southern Europe (including the Alps) and western Turkey
  • amicorum of eastern Turkey to Iran.
The two western races winter together, chiefly in the Atlas Mountains of north-west Africa but also to a much lesser extent in southern Spain.

Data History

In common with many species, good quality data on the numbers and range of ring ouzels only exists since about 1970. However, such records that exist suggest a wide distribution across the British and Irish uplands in the 19th Century and there is also evidence of breeding in some lowland counties.

A decline was noted throughout the 20th Century and by the time of the first national survey in 1968-1972 (as part of the first Breeding Bird Atlas), they were restricted to the main upland blocks – Dartmoor, Exmoor, Wales, Pennines, Cumbria, North York Moors, Southern Uplands and Scottish Highlands – with an estimated population of 8,000-16,000 pairs. By this time, ring ouzels were already very rare in Ireland.

The second Breeding Bird Atlas survey took place between 1988-1991 and this further documented their decline. All the main upland blocks were still occupied but losses had occurred throughout the range and the population was now put at 5,500-11,000 pairs. Further losses also occurred in much of Ireland although County Kerry in the far south-west appears to have been colonised during the intervening years.

Survey Problems


National Atlases generally give a reasonable summary of a species range but are rather poor for deriving good population estimates (fieldwork is not aimed specifically for any one species so they tend to be under-recorded). A national ring ouzel survey was undertaken in 1999 and this gave a figure of 6,157-7,549 territories in the UK. So, although different methodologies were employed in the three surveys mentioned, they all point to a continuing decline.

Further evidence for this has been gathered from a number of local long-term studies in Britain (Pennines, Wales, south-east Scotland, eastern Scotland) and other resurveys, some of which point to a decline in numbers of around 70% from the mid-90s to the present day. Fieldwork is currently underway for the third national Breeding Bird Atlas and this will undoubtedly serve to confirm the poor state that ring ouzels now find themselves in. Although the bird is still found from Dartmoor to the northern tip of Scotland there are few strongholds left (Easter Ross/East Inverness, Grampian, East Tayside, Pennines).


As the above estimates testify, having a good knowledge of populations and trends is difficult even in well-watched Britain and these difficulties are magnified in the rest of Europe, which, generally, has extensive amounts of potentially suitable habitat and few observers. Accordingly, estimates vary massively – the European population is put at anything between 310,000 and 670,000 pairs with Romania thought to hold about 22%, Austria 16%, Russia 11%, Switzerland 11%, Norway 7% and the remainder split between 25 other countries.

Historically, despite an almost total absence of monitoring data, numbers were thought to be stable in mainland Europe - although a recent survey in south-east Switzerland has reported substantial declines there, and it is possible that these are also occurring throughout its continental range. In truth, the population and trend estimates for Europe currently appear to be little more than informed guesses and there is an urgent need for good quality repeated surveys.



Copyright RSPB 2011