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Identifying predators of eggs and chicks of Lapwing Vanellus vanellus and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa in the Netherlands and the importance of predation on wader reproductive output

Ibis 2008 v.150 no.s1 pp. 74-85
Ardea cinerea, Buteo buteo, Corvus corone, Limosa limosa, Mustela erminea, Vanellus vanellus, Vulpes vulpes, agricultural land, birds, breeding, chicks, eggs, grasslands, intensive farming, mammals, nests, population dynamics, predation, predators, reproductive performance, temperature, volunteers, Netherlands
Farmland bird populations in the Netherlands have shown an accelerating decline in recent years, despite extensive conservation efforts including reserves, agri-environment schemes and protection of nests by volunteers. Although agricultural intensification is the main cause underlying these declines, there is a growing concern that the ongoing decline of grassland-breeding shorebirds in recent years is caused or aggravated by increasing predation. Although Red Fox Vulpes vulpes and Carrion Crow Corvus corone are often accused of causing widespread breeding losses, and calls for management of these species are made, very few field data are available on the incidence of predation on grassland shorebirds and the relative importance of different predators. To obtain such data, we identified egg predators using temperature loggers and continuous video recordings of 792 clutches, and chick predators by radiotagging 662 chicks of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa and Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus. In total, 22 species were identified as predators of eggs or chicks, of which Red Fox, Common Buzzard Buteo buteo, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea and Stoat Mustela erminea were the most frequent. Eggs were taken primarily by mammals and chicks more often by birds. There was great variation in predation levels and species involved in predation of clutches between sites and years, but less in chick predation. Hence, there was no correlation between predation levels on clutches and those on chicks within the same sites. In sites where more then 50% of clutches were lost to predation, however, nocturnal predators took the larger share. As temporal and spatial variation on a small scale significantly influences predation levels, a site-specific approach based on sound knowledge of the local situation will be more effective in reducing predation on farmland birds than general, country-wide measures. Calculations based on our data indicate that eliminating only one loss factor at a time will often not reverse a local population decline, and provide a strong argument for targeting several locally limiting factors simultaneously instead of focusing on mitigation of predation alone.