Following on from the great success of the Great Herts Garden Bird Count in April 2020, the Herts Bird Club decided to continue with a new challenge whilst the country was still in partial lockdown, and so with the aim of keeping interest up and adding value to bird records, the Great Herts Breeding Bird Challenge was created.

Observers were asked to submit all breeding records, especially those proving breeding, to the website. They were asked to use the standard BTO breeding codes from the drop down menus on the website, as well as grid references where possible.  This allowed accurate recording of location and breeding status.

This challenge ran all summer and

was popular with Herts birders, with just under 1250 separate records of proven breeding submitted by 122 different observers.  This compares very favourably with previous years - 2018 saw less than 200 proven breeding records submitted to the website whilst 2019 had just over 400.

Ninety-four species were proved to be breeding in Hertfordshire.  Hobby, Cuckoo and Black-necked Grebe were highly likely to have bred, but no records of confirmed breeding were received. These results pose the question as to whether in fact there are a hundred species breeding in the county.

The top twelve species by number of breeding locations were as follows:

House Martin 107
Rook 68
Blue Tit 66
Starling 62
House Sparrow 47
Robin 47
Blackbird 33
Great Tit 33
Mallard 29
Great Spotted Woodpecker 28
Jackdaw 28
Goldfinch 26

This shows an obvious bias towards common garden birds, which was probably exaggerated by observers staying at home more than usual.  House Martins were recorded as part of another ad-hoc survey which evolved from the Breeding Challenge - this will be the subject of a separate article.  Rookeries were recorded prior to the start of the challenge, mostly before the start of the COVID lockdown.

A full list of proved breeding species with the number of locations for each can be found HERE 

It is pleasing to note that there were significant increases of proven breeding for many species when compared with the 2018 Hertfordshire Bird Report.  It is also of note is that the report itself includes data from Birdtrack and ebird, so final totals for this year will likely be higher still.  It is hoped that this will add interest to the species accounts in the 2020 Bird report when it is published next year.

Notable records - of particular interest included:

  • Spotted Flycatcher successfully breeding at ten locations
  • Eleven Red Kite proved breeding records
  • Starlings and Swifts using the same nest box in St Albans - the Starlings fledging just before the Swifts arrived
  • Five confirmed Willow Warbler breeding records - none were received in 2018
  • Ten species with just one proven record each: Cetti’s Warbler, Corn Bunting, Gadwall, Feral Pigeon, Herring Gull, Marsh Tit, Red-crested Pochard, Sand Martin, Tree Sparrow , Water Rail
  • Some highly unusual nest sites such as under a bath, in a traffic cone and in an upturned car bumper.  Further details can be found here 

Even at the time of writing, a few records are still being received, with two each of Woodpigeon and Collared Dove submitted in October.  If you see any late breeding proof, or have any outstanding records from earlier this year, please do submit them to the website to add to the records we already have.


Many thanks to all observers who submitted records - we hope that the challenge made your birding more interesting during difficult times. Please do submit breeding records again next year so we can continue to monitor the status of Hertfordshire's birds