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Keywords:

  • activity patterns;
  • habitat choice;
  • moorland management;
  • nocturnal foraging;
  • upland conservation

Summary

1. The golden plover Pluvialis apricaria is of high conservation concern in Europe. Previous studies have concentrated on how birds utilize moorland. We used radio-telemetry to study their habitat selection and behaviour, during both night and day, in an upland landscape of enclosed fields and moorland in county Durham, UK.

2. During incubation adult golden plover fed principally in enclosed fields 1·1–3·7 km from their moorland nests, but spent less than 5% of their foraging time on moorland. In contrast, birds with broods spent around 85% of their time foraging on moorland.

3. Birds on moorland selected calcareous grassland and avoided old stands of dense tall heather (> c. 12 cm). Younger, shorter (< c. 5–8 cm), sparser heather was used as much as would be expected by chance. Mires of harestail cotton grass Eriophorum vaginatum, the dominant community type when heather Calluna vulgaris is heavily grazed, was selected on both moorland sites.

4. Only 17 of 85 fields in the study area were used for foraging by breeding golden plover. The number of molehills, a reported indicator of earthworm abundance, was the best single variable explaining field choice. Both field size and distance from road had small but significant effects on field choice.

5. We advocate that groups of enclosed fields regularly used by golden plover during the breeding season be afforded specific protection under conservation schemes (e.g. environmentally sensitive area agreements). Conservationists wishing to locate such fields should look for areas with high earthworm populations, as indicated by molehills, close (< 4 km) to breeding populations of golden plover. Rank heather on flat or gently sloping ground should be kept short by appropriate burning or grazing. Areas of calcareous grassland should be preserved.

6. These data illustrate the value of detailed radio-telemetry in informing equally detailed habitat management for important bird species.