Protecting the nest generation
The breeding season for birds has just begun – it roughly lasts from March until August – and it’s a crucial time of year for our feathered friends.
If you think of a bird’s nest, you may picture a lofty eyrie in a tree or the side of a cliff or perhaps an intricate roost nestled within a hedge. But lots of birds lay their eggs in nests on the ground and for many reasons these require extra special protection.
Many of our ground nesting birds are in worrying decline, including nightjar, woodlark, lapwing and woodcock. As well as habitat loss and climate change, one of the main threats these rare species face is from disturbance.
Naturally, nesting on the ground means these birds and their eggs are incredibly vulnerable to predators. Yet, millennia of evolution have allowed them to evade such threats. One method is camouflage; for example, coastal ground nesting birds lay eggs that are patterned like pebbles among rocks on the shoreline. Other birds are extremely skilled at hiding their nests, like curlews and skylarks, which make hollows in long grasses.
However, disturbance from humans and, more often, dogs is a key factor in the demise of ground nesting birds. Even the most well-behaved dog can seem like a big, scary predator to a ground nesting bird if wandering off path. Dogs can unwittingly trample eggs or scare adult birds off their nests, leaving chicks vulnerable to cold, starvation and predators.
The best way responsible dog walkers can help ground nesting birds when visiting nature reserves during breeding season is to keep dogs on a short lead.
Other important things you can do to help include:
- Sticking to the footpaths on all our nature reserves. This is especially important in forests, heathlands and coastal areas.
- Respecting the signage at our nature reserves, alerting you to the presence of ground nesting birds.
- If you spot signs of distress from birds (like loud alarm calling, flights back-and-forth or even dive-bombing), back away and take an alternative route.
- Bagging and binning dog poo. Poo can affect wildlife and alter the habitats of ground nesting birds so dispose of it properly.
- Telling others about the need to be aware of ground nesting birds when visiting nature reserves.
Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves are havens for wildlife, including rare ground nesting birds. Please follow these guidelines in all nature reserves. For more information, visit https://www.hiwwt.org.uk