Habitat selection, diet, arthropod availability and growth of a moorland wader: the ecology of European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria chicks

Authors


*Corresponding author. Present address: RSPB, Dunedin House, 25 Ravelston Terrace, Edinburgh, EH4 3TP,UK.
Email: james.pearce-higgins@rspb.org.uk

Abstract

Habitat use, diet and food supply of European Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria chicks were studied on blanket bog in the South Pennines, UK. The home ranges occupied by chicks until fledging averaged 40 ha; they contained relatively more cotton grass and bare peat than was available generally, but less heather and grassland. Use of Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and Crowberry Empetrum nigrum increased with age, whereas that of cotton grass Eriophorum spp. declined. Dietary composition, as assessed by faecal analysis, was similar to that obtained from the crops of dead birds. The diet of younger chicks, assessed by dry weight of prey, consisted of about 30% each of adult and larval tipulids, whereas for chicks older than 16 days, about 70% was tipulid larvae. Beetles, spiders and caterpillars each comprised 5–20% of the diet, depending on age. Older chicks took larger prey. The exploitation of larval tipulids was correlated positively with the chicks’ use of cotton grass and bare peat areas, whereas caterpillars, beetles and spiders were more often taken from dwarf shrubs, reflecting variation in prey abundance. Bare peat was an important foraging habitat, whose exploitation was associated positively with the growth rate of young chicks, and with mean prey size. Both weight gain and survival of young chicks were positively correlated with the abundance of tipulid adults, confirming the hypothesis that the flush of tipulid hatching is an important determinant of breeding success. Golden Plover chicks are capable of considerable movements to track variation in prey availability. This behaviour is likely to be an important survival strategy facilitating the utilization of a mosaic of cotton grass and dwarf shrub habitats. Appropriate rotational strip-burning or grazing management could be used to create and maintain such habitats.

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