Population declines and reproductive performance of Skylarks Alauda arvensis in different regions and habitats of the United Kingdom

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Abstract

Declines in the number of breeding Skylarks Alauda aruensis and changes in their reproductive performance were analysed using data from two long-running surveys co-ordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology: the Common Birds Census and the Nest Record Scheme. In the UK, the number of breeding Skylarks declined by approximately 55% between 1975 and 1994. This decline was steepest in agricultural habitats and in regions associated with intensive agriculture. In contrast, Skylark reproductive performance per nest, in terms of clutch size, brood size and post-hatching survival rate of nests, showed a general improvement over time. This improvement was greatest in intensively farmed agricultural habitats. Therefore changes in reproductive performance per nesting attempt were probably not responsible for the decline in numbers. It is inferred that possible causes of the decline of the Skylark are: reductions in the number of breeding attempts per pair per season, reductions in the proportion of birds attempting to breed, and increased mortality outside the breeding season.

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