The Life of Kelly

Kelly – the life of a very special Cirl Bunting (9th July 2006 – 27th April 2011)  

For those who have been following the progress of the Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project for a while, one particular bird needs special mention. The combination red over metal, yellow over pink is a familiar one that has probably been penned in our notebooks on many an occasion. Due to his perseverance, Kelly, as he was originally named, has become a symbol of eternal hope and optimism. With his sad demise earlier this year, it is only fitting to pause for a while to reflect on his life.

Kelly 2nd March 2011 (Nigel Climpson)

Back in July 2006 he was one of a brood of five, spending the first six days of his life in a hedge in one of the rolling green fields of sunny Devon. Just like all the rest before and since, he was then taken to a land that cirls had forgotten. However, it was a place where he would flourish and once wild and free, he spent the next few months getting to know his surroundings. By the following spring he had found his voice and, even though on occasion it was more like that of a yellowhammer or a chaffinch, he attracted the attention of Carlosmandelos (don’t ask), a female originating from the same neighbourhood and with whom he pursued two breeding attempts. By the end of the summer they had produced three young cirls, to contribute to this fledgling population.

During harvest of that year, Kelly was to be found back at his surrogate home near the release site – a place he knew well and from where he would see out the rest of his days. Sadly, Carlosmandelos did not accompany him and was lost without trace before the last of the barley had been gathered in.

Through the winter he would frequently be seen, rarely more than a stone’s throw from where he gained his freedom. By the following April he had turned his attention towards Jeff – a female of his year and with whom he would have three nesting attempts. Their persistence eventually paid off, as after two failures they finished the season with a single fledgling.

A winter on the stubbles, topped up with regular visits to capitalise on freely-available millet and canary seed, must have served him well, as by the following spring Kelly sensed an opportunity to really make his mark on the population. First in his sights was a female appropriately called Willing – a yearling for whom the bottom of the lane was home. Whether this attraction was due to his ability to mimic other species is not known. Whatever it was, she was sufficiently impressed to fashion two nests to father his offspring. However, despite a promising beginning, it soon became clear that Kelly was not content with a life in one territory, for just up the lane was to be found Jen – a two-year old with whom a bramble patch would serve as a suitable home to start a family. Again, Kelly was soon to get itchy claws. Leaving Jen to successfully bring up a couple of juveniles, he didn’t have to move far to find Curly Wurly. Another in her first spring, she wasted no time in settling down and laying a trio of eggs. Just like the previous two, she would soon realise that Kelly was not one for staying at home. To be fair to Kelly, he wasn’t neglecting his parental duties either. It’s just that he was realising he couldn’t be in three different places at once! After feeding chicks with Jen for several days he would switch to aiding Curly Wurly, resulting in three more additions to the fledgling total. Not one to forget a face, he then returned to Willing, with whom he devoted the rest of the season to simple monogamy and the successful rearing of three more youngsters.

The following winter passed by without event for Kelly – an experienced bird by now, he knew where to get his next meal. And so to another spring and all the opportunities that came with it. Sadly, not one of the three females that Kelly had consorted with the previous summer had made it through to another season. Therefore, Kelly had to look elsewhere and first up was a true Roseland native without any of that fancy leg wear. However, following their first failed attempt, Kelly then took the opportunity to team up with a different young female, whose name amongst her observers was born from her most distinctive feature – that of possessing a rear claw that pointed forwards – Slipped Claw. Unfortunately, the fruits of their efforts amounted to nothing and so Kelly then wasted no time in returning to his original mate, with whom three juveniles eventually resulted.

The winter of 2010/11 was a particularly harsh one, with snow and prolonged freezing temperatures making life in the stubbles a bit of a struggle to say the least. Kelly came through it though and by early April he was in good song and fine feather and already proving popular with one of the Roseland-bred females. However, as we were just finding out where they were settling down, we noticed that Kelly became conspicuous by his absence at the seed tray. Despite rumours suggesting that he was spending more time in the neighbouring hedgerows, it soon became clear that Kelly was no longer with us. His last entry states that on 27th April he was seen blissfully picking up grass stems with his mate from the lane side, just yards from where his life as a free cirl began almost five years before. In that time he had nested 11 times with seven different females and helped raise 15 fledglings. He outlived all of his class and many others of a younger generation too. We can only hope that there are a few others of his blood out there still.


Nick Tomalin
RSPB Cirl Bunting Reintroduction Project Officer