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The decline of ground-nesting birds in the agrarian landscape of Italy


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Authors summarize the historical and current status of some granivorous birds linked to agri-environments in Italy, namely Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra). Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) and Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), pointing out that the most declining species are Calandra Lark (sedentary) and Short-toed Lark (transaharian migrant), less Skylark (sedentary and short-distance migrant), more or less stable Crested Lark (sedentary), Woodlark and Corn Bunting (both sedentary and shortdistance migrants); all of them are mainly associated with "extensive" agriculture, which is practised in wide farmlands, but actually with "intensive" methods, that authors consider the main cause of depletion of these birds. The rural development reforms planned for the 2007-2013 period appear to be an opportunity to resolve some environmentally harmful effects arisen from the measure application in the previous period; agri-environment measures, rewarding farmers improving farmland with land able to provide food, shelter and nesting sites for wildlife, should be more competitively funded and paid in accordance with the importance of the environmental benefits provided.
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Rev. Écol. (Terre Vie), vol. 65, 2010.
– 73
Bruno Ma ss a
& Tommaso La Mant ia
RÉSUMÉ.Le déclin des oiseaux terrestres dans les paysages agricoles d’Italie.— Les auteurs résu-
ment le statut historique et actuel de quelques oiseaux granivores liés à l’environnement agricole en Italie, en
l’occurrence l’Alouette des champs (Alauda arvensis), l’Alouette lulu (Lullula arborea), le Cochevis huppé
(Galerida cristata), l’Alouette calandre (Melanocorypha calandra), l’Alouette calandrelle (Calandrella
brachydactyla) et le Bruant proyer (Emberiza calandra). Ils soulignent que l’Alouette calandre (sédentaire)
et l’Alouette calandrelle (migratrice transaharienne) sont les espèces qui déclinent le plus, l’Alouette des
champs la fois sédentaire et migratrice partielle) décline moins tandis que le Cochevis huppé (séden-
taire), l’Alouette lulu et le Bruant proyer (tous deux à la fois sédentaires et migrateurs partiels) sont plus
ou moins stables. Toutes ces espèces sont essentiellement associées à l’agriculture «extensive» pratiquée
sur de grandes surfaces mais qui, en réalité, l’est de manière «intensive», ce que les auteurs tiennent pour
être la raison principale du déclin de ces oiseaux. Les réformes de développement planiées pour la période
2007-2013 apparaissent comme une opportunité à saisir pour résoudre quelques effets dangereux dus aux
mesures appliquées dans la période précédente. Les mesures agro-environnementales encourageant les agri-
culteurs à améliorer leurs terres de manière à fournir à la faune sauvage de la nourriture, des abris et des
sites de reproduction, devraient être mieux subventionnées en accord avec l’importance des bénéces offerts
à l’environnement.
sUMMARY.— Authors summarize the historical and current status of some granivorous birds linked to
agri-environments in Italy, namely Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Crested Lark
(Galerida cristata), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla)
and Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra), pointing out that the most declining species are Calandra Lark
(sedentary) and Short-toed Lark (transaharian migrant), less Skylark (sedentary and short-distance migrant),
more or less stable Crested Lark (sedentary), Woodlark and Corn Bunting (both sedentary and short-
distance migrants); all of them are mainly associated with “extensive” agriculture, which is practised in
wide farmlands, but actually with “intensive” methods, that authors consider the main cause of depletion of
these birds. The rural development reforms planned for the 2007-2013 period appear to be an opportunity
to resolve some environmentally harmful effects arisen from the measure application in the previous
period; agri-environment measures, rewarding farmers improving farmland with land able to provide food,
shelter and nesting sites for wildlife, should be more competitively funded and paid in accordance with the
importance of the environmental benets provided.
In the last decades a very unusual decline of some species linked to steppes and agri-
environments has been observed, particularly involving ground-nesting birds. Generally, all
Dipartimento SENFIMIZO (Entomologia, Acarologia, Zoologia), Università di Palermo, V.le delle Scienze.
I-90128 Palermo. E-mail:
Corresponding author. Dipartimento di Colture arboree, Università di Palermo, V.le delle Scienze Ed.4, Ing. H.
I-90128 Palermo. Phone: +3909123861211; fax: +3909123861225; e-mail:
– 74
the researchers agree that the main reason of this decline is the intensication of grassland
management to provide better grazing and higher yield of forage grasses; this comprises an
increasing use of fertilizers, drainage, regular ploughing and re-seeding with a limited range
of competitive, nitrogen-responsive grass species (Perkins et al., 2000), which in turn may
threaten farmland bird communities (Brambilla et al., 2007). Also pastoral abandonment in
mountainous areas has been considered as an important cause of species decline, as well as
high level of mechanization, clearance of eld margins, and large monocultures (e.g.: Laiolo
et al., 2004; Scozzafava et al., 2006; Bolliger et al., 2007). In addition, “rural depopulation”
caused a signicant increasing cover of woody plants and a decline of birds of open habitats
(Farina, 1997; Preiss et al., 1997).
This results in the loss of food resources (seeds and invertebrates) and of habitats suitable
for birds; some of them have been called “farmland specialists” and recognized as most endan-
gered by the development of agriculture in UK, being declined by 30 % on average between
1968 and 1995 (Siriwardena et al., 1998). A number of these birds have been added to the red
list of conservation concern and identied as species requiring urgent action to reverse their
declines (Vickery et al., 2002). This decline occurred in many European countries with very
intensively-developed agriculture, Italy included, and it gave cause for concern because the
status of some species does not seem to be improved.
In northern Italy, arable land for fodder maize cultivation markedly increased over the
last 50 years to the detriment of permanent grasslands; the use of chemicals has removed the
need for planting of non-cereal crops and for fallow lands, once used to maintain soil fertility
(Laiolo, 2004). Differently, in southern regions of Italy and islands a parallel trend of agricul-
ture has not been noticed and permanent grassland and cereal crops still cover a discrete land
surface. In spite of all, some “farmland specialists” are declining, giving cause for concern.
For this reason, we put together all the information that we could nd to present a picture,
as precise as possible, of the situation in Europe and particularly in Mediterranean region and
in Italy; we hope it shall be a spur for future researches on this topic.
We choose six granivorous passerines, strictly linked to open space and extensive agriculture, namely: Skylark
(Alauda arvensis), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha
calandra), Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) and Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra). We excluded species
of the genus Anthus, which are less associated with agrarian landscape and prefer natural habitats.
Authors paid particular attention to some species, as Skylark and Corn Bunting, while overlooked others, thus
there is an objective disproportion among published data. However, we consulted all possible references on the six
cited species, particularly in the Italian regions, where the historical reconstruction of their past and present status is
not available. Italian trend of each species has been compared with that of other European and North African countries.
Nevertheless, often old authors gave only qualitative information, not quantitative, on the presence of species. Cited
Italian regions and localities are reported in Fig. 1. North-West Italian regions include Aosta Valley, Liguria, Lombardy
and Piedmont; North-East comprises Emilia-Romagna, Friuli Venetia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige/Südtirol and Veneto,
Central includes Latium, Marches, Tuscany, Umbria; South Italy comprises Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Apulia,
Molise and islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
There is some interesting evidence of its past abundance in Italy. As regards Italian penin-
sula, Doderlein (1869-74), treating the area of Modena province, wrote that it was abundant
– 75
there as a breeding bird on the plains, as well as on the mountains. Salvadori (1872) considered
the Skylark very common in Italy and very abundant during March and October migrations,
pointing out that very many bred on the mountains as well as on cultivated plains and grass-
land; in addition he wrote that in the Neaples area there was a tradition to catch huge numbers
during the night, trampling on them with the aid of a lamp. Another nocturnal traditional catch
was practised in Apulia, where local people used to pursue Skylark ocks with the aid of a
handbell, getting them tired (Foschi, 1986). Giglioli (1889, 1890) recorded it as common, very
common or abundant in North, Central and South Italy during the breeding season and very
abundant in autumn and winter. Additionally, Giglioli (1907) wrote that it migrated in Italy
in “immense” numbers in October-November and March-April. Arrigoni degli Oddi (1929)
considered the Skylark common and abundant everywhere in Italy, but much more abundant
during migration seasons (October-November and March-April). Duse & Toschi (1930) repor-
ted from ringing stations of Lombardy abundant numbers of migrant Skylarks in early-mid
October to early November.
Figure 1.— Regions of Italy and other localities cited in the text.
– 76
In North Africa the Skylark was an abundant winter bird too, as Whitaker (1905) stated:
“Near the town of Tunis large numbers of Sky-Larks are netted and brought to the market. The
netting of Larks and other small birds in the Regency, however, is fortunately not carried out on
the large scale that it is in some parts of Italy, where wholesale slaughter with these ‘engines of
destruction’ is so common. According to good authority it seems the proportion of birds taken
by these means in Italy is small in comparison with the vast numbers which pass through the
country”. Even though Italian (and Tunisian) trappers took away a good percentage of migra-
ting Skylarks, it was considered very small in comparison with the millions and millions of
individuals passing through these countries.
Toschi (1969) was one of the rst Italian ornithologists to notice that Skylarks were decli-
ning with respect to the recent past, and his considerations were coherent with the drastic
decline and ensuing disappearance of traditional hunting activities on migrating ocks in Italy.
Foschi (1986) devoted a particular interest to the decrease of Skylarks, proposing that the
excessive use of biocides and frequent tillage on breeding areas of East Europe could be one of
the reasons of their decline. More recently, De Carli et al. (1998) have reported in Lombardy
a 50 % decrease in 1992-1995, and Brichetti & Fracasso (2007) have recorded in Brescia pro-
vince a 65 % decrease from 1960 to 1980; also Bani (2008) considers it declining in Lombardy,
while Lapini (1997) reports that no signicant variations were noticed in Tuscany in 1982-
1992 compared to previous century. In Calabria it was abundant during the autumn migration
along coasts, where it was also wintering (Lucifero, 1898-1901). Sardinian population seems
to be more or less stable, locally declining (H. Schenk, pers. comm.; A.A.V.V., 2004-2005).
Currently, in Italy it is a regular migrating bird in spring from mid-February through
March until April-early May, in autumn from September-October until November. Specimens
show biometric differences, possibly due to different origin of migrating populations (Licheri
& Spina, 2002), as recorded above; this aspect is much important and points out that Medi-
terranean countries during migration and wintering host Skylark populations originating from
different countries of Central and East Europe, giving to them a further responsibility in the
conservation of the species.
Sedentary population of Sicily may be considered stable and is linked to altitudes over
900-1000 m (Ientile & Massa, 2008). The past abundance of migrating Skylark in Sicily is
noteworthy. Ranesque Schmaltz (1814) wrote a small paper on the arrival dates of Skylarks
next to Palermo (Sicily) in autumn: “Their arrival starts on autumnal equinox [23 September]
and lasts about one month. They y slowly just above the surface of the water and rise in the
sky only when they reach the coast. I calculated that about one million birds cross the Gulf
of Palermo in good passage days, and it may be reasonably supposed that during the autumn
migration, only in the Gulf of Palermo (about 35 km) more than 10 million Skylarks arrive”.
He also described in detail the traditional hunting of Palermo’s people towards larks, peaking
in some days with one hundred of small boats with gunners and more than three hundred
hunters dispersed along the coasts. It is easy to imagine numbers of Skylarks killed by them.
Afterwards, Doderlein (1869-74) wrote that these gures were not exaggerated and reported
additional notes on this kind of hunting traditionally practiced by Palermo’s people, pointing
out that some days in October the number of hunters was so high that it might give the image
of a battleeld; according to him, many of these Skylarks were wintering in the inland plains
and ploughed elds. Whitaker (1905) again described the traditional hunting of Skylarks in the
Gulf of Palermo: “Though there is comparatively little bird-netting carried on in the neighbou-
rhood of Palermo, lark-shooting is in great vogue among the native sportsmen of the place, and
on certain days in October, when the passage of these birds is in full swing, the Bay of Palermo
presents an unusual and extraordinary spectacle; numbers of small boats, each with one or two
gunners in them, lining the roadstead, their occupants keeping up a lively fusillade at the poor
birds as they arrive in small ocks. This may be carried on for several hours, and any stranger
arriving in Palermo by the daily postal steamer might imagine that a miniature naval battle was
being waged, or that a revolution had broken out!”. This abundance of migrating Skylarks and
their traditional hunting in the Gulf of Palermo continued until the 1960s and was decreasing
in the 1970s, up to the complete decline both of the lark passage and hunting activity. The early
– 77
passage on the coast of Palermo has been conrmed by our personal observations and by some
elderly hunters who told us with a wealth of details many aspects of the traditional hunting
from small rowing boats. We were in touch with people who practised this kind of hunting and
described us this activity in the same terms as those recorded by the above cited authors: ocks
of hundreds, sometimes thousands of Skylarks crossing the Gulf of Palermo between late Sep-
tember and mid October. Because in autumn huge numbers crossed much of the North coast of
Sicily, we may consider that tens of million Skylarks crossed Sicily to winter there or in North
Africa. Today, only small ocks of tens pass during autumn migration and total numbers are
possibly only 10 % of those recorded above; a modest passage is also noticed in small islands
surrounding Sicily. According to Giglioli (1889, 1890) in the Messina Strait rst spring obser-
vations of migrating Skylarks were noticed in mid-February, peaking in March, last individuals
passing on late April, while in autumn they passed from mid-October, peaking on late October
until early November. Angelini (1896) reported also an important passage of Skylarks in the
Messina Strait, mainly from 20 October to mid-November. Thousands (8-10,000) of them were
shot (Pistone & Ruggieri in Giglioli, 1890; Angelini, 1896). It is noteworthy that in the West
coast of Sicily migration of Skylarks occurred between mid-September to mid-October, pea-
king in late September-early October, while on the East coast the autumn passage was delayed
about one month, matching with dates provided by authors from other regions (e.g. Duse &
Toschi, 1930). It is possible that ocks were originating from different countries. Spaepen
& Van Cauteren (1968) have hypothesized that the birds migrating through Italian peninsula
probably come from central and southern Russia but, referring to Italy, they write that “More
details about wintering in this region and in more southern part of Italy are desirable”. More
recently, Spaepen (1995) wrote “Autumn migration occurs mainly in southwestern direction.
Southward migration is also rare. This conclusion needs some reservation, because, contrary
to expectations, few recoveries and ringing data were available from Italy”.
Skylark inhabits a wide range of temperate open habitats and is considered one of the
most abundant and widespread larks, breeding in Eurasia between 35° N and 65° N, but rea-
ching as far north as 72° N (Norway) (Donald, 2004); even if it is so widespread, it shows
a remarkable variation in numbers and trends, eventually depending on aridity uctuation,
which should cause a decline on chick growth rate, clutch size, number of clutches laid and
nest survival rates (Tieleman, 2005). Populations of this species in many European countries
are poorly known and estimates in most countries outside Europe are unreliable; according to
BirdLife International (2004) it is a widespread breeder across most of Europe, with a popula-
tion between 40 and 80 million breeding pairs over a breeding range of 8 million km
, and an
overall trend of decline, mainly in West Europe. Greatest numbers breed in Belarus, Denmark,
Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine and United Kingdom, but good
numbers are also recorded for Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France and Turkey. Massa & Fontana
(2004) reported also a good population from Georgia, very common on cereal and sunowers
elds. It underwent a large decline between 1970-1990; although the decline continued in
many western countries in the 1990-2000 decade, eastern populations remained stable and the
species probably declined only slightly overall but its populations are considered far below the
level that preceded their decline. Nevertheless, it has been provisionally evaluated as depleted
and recorded as Spec3.
Declines have been greatest on intensively managed lowland habitats; its breeding popu-
lation on lowland farmland of UK declined by 55 % since the mid-1970s (Chamberlain &
Crick, 1999), but declines have been reported also in upland farmland (Fuller et al., 2002). Its
decline is reported from different countries and its populations have decreased substantially in
many European countries (Wilson et al., 1997; Kragten et al., 2008). A steep decline has been
recorded in Central and Western Europe, where the population has halved since the middle of
the 1970s (Tucker & Heath, 1994; Siriwardena et al., 1998). In a Central European country
(Czech Republic) skylarks showed a negative trend both in 1982-1990 and 1991-2003 periods,
but this trend was signicantly less negative in 1991-2003 (Reif et al., 2008). Otherwise, in Ibe-
rian Peninsula, breeding densities in cereal farmland resulted similar to those found in central
Europe, while densities obtained in shrub-steppes resulted higher than those recorded for pas-
ture in Britain; in addition, in winter Skylarks concentrated in dry pasture, where they reached
– 78
densities 10- or 20-fold those found in Iberian shrublands and in Central Europe (Suárez et al.,
2003). Some studies show the importance of grasslands and grazing management to improve
the habitat for Skylarks in Spain (Martínez-Padilla & Fargallo, 2008). Other researches (Eraud
et al., 2000) pointed out the importance of cultivated habitats for breeding; Eraud & Corda
(2004) wrote “Our results suggest that stubble elds are key habitats for conservation because
they provide an important food supply”, and Eraud & Boutin (2002) pointed out the impor-Eraud & Boutin (2002) pointed out the impor-
tance of diversity, of diminution of fertilizers and eld size for Skylark conservation; they also
observed the relationship between the density of Skylarks and vegetation size. Set-aside and
Lucerne (Medicago sativa) play an important role to maintain vital populations of this bird. In
recent decades changes in agricultural practices in Spain were characterized by the decrease in
the surface occupied by fallow and the increase of non suitable agricultural habitats, which had
critical consequences for wintering Skylarks (Suárez et al., 2003). During a research carried
out by Laiolo (2004) in northern Italy winter stubble resulted the almost exclusive foraging
habitat of the Skylark.
In North Europe, where there is little vegetation in spring, due to slower vegetation
growth and the majority of crops being spring-sown, breeding of skylarks is associated with
areas containing over-wintered vegetation. There, it appears to be the absence, rather than the
excess of vegetation, that limits their numbers (Piha et al., 2003). Wilson et al. (1996) state
that, except where nests were destroyed by cutting, set-aside supports high densities of suc-
cessfully breeding Skylarks and also strongly favours foraging Skylarks outside the breeding
season. Additionally, Siriwardena et al. (2008) have shown that seed supplementary resources
in farmland are used by granivorous birds mostly in late winter, when natural sources of food
have generally disappeared. They also proposed to revise existing agri-environment measures
(AEM), extending the period over which seed-rich habitats are retained into spring. The causes
of decline are not well understood, being population trends in habitats other than farmland
poorly known. According to Wilson et al. (1997) and Donald et al. (2001a), the change from
spring- to autumn-sowing of cereals is likely to have been an important contributor to recent
population declines; autumn-sown cereals tend to be too tall for nesting attempts of Skylarks;
tall and dense vegetation renders most sites unsuitable for Skylarks to nest and feed. It shows
a preference for young grass or clover lays, common components of traditional crop rotations
(Chamberlain et al., 1999). British Bird Index, developed to complement indicators measu-
ring the state of species and habitats of particular conservation value, includes the Skylark,
as farmland bird indicator (Gregory et al., 2004). Following O’Connor & Shrubb (1986) and
Chamberlain & Crick (1999), major changes have occurred in the management of agricultural
land, which have been involved as a cause in the decline. In UK in the past, cereals were sown
in the spring, grown through the summer and harvested in the early autumn; now they are sown
in the autumn, grown through the winter and are harvested in the early summer. An increased
trend to autumn-sown cereals has reduced the number of essential winter stubble elds and
may provide unsuitable habitat in comparison with spring-sown varieties; the winter-grown
elds are much too dense in summer for the Skylark to be able to walk and run between the
wheat stems to nd its food; when the crop grows, areas without crop seeds become areas of
low vegetation, where Skylarks can easily hunt insects, and can build their well camouaged
ground nests. These areas of low vegetation are very good for Skylarks, but the wheat in the
rest of the eld becomes too closely packed and too tall for the bird to seek food.
Mechanisms of modern agriculture adversely affect bird populations, the use of herbi-
cides and fertilizers decreases food availability, the shift from spring to winter cereals pro-
vides unfavourable breeding conditions, increasing harvesting efciency prevents feeding
on unharvested seeds and loss of uncultivated areas within arable land takes away breeding
and feeding habitat availability. Habitat loss might have been a more important cause of
population declines than agricultural intensity alone (Reif et al., 2008). The use of herbici-
des on some farmlands was also reported by Moltoni (1973) as the possible reason of very
few wintering individuals on Pantelleria Is. (Sicily). Early silage cutting destroys nests and
exposes Skylarks to predators; intensive management of arable elds reduces ephemeral
weeds and insect prey through the use of agrochemicals. Overall, changes in agricultural
management are the most probable cause of the Skylark decline; conversely, breeding per-
– 79
formance per nesting attempt has improved: both clutch and brood size increased signi-
cantly between early 1970s and late 1990s, mainly in agricultural habitats (Chamberlain
& Crick, 1999). Climate warming may have inuenced its phenology; analysis of the 132
year-old data set recording the spring arrival dates of Skylarks in southern Estonia advan-
ced 6-14 days (Ahas & Aasa, 2004). Autumn migration lasts in Central Europe from early
September, continuing to November, while in the Mediterranean area it occurs between late
September and early November. In South Italy, until the 1960s a single hunter was easily
able to shoot down a hundred of Skylarks in one day. Today migration and wintering of
Skylarks are much decreased from many of its traditional places, where they were plenti-
ful. The history of gradual decline of Skylark in Europe may be considered as a symbolic
warning; it is, indeed, a species once as abundant as it was impossible to consider it within
vulnerable taxa, but today in many areas its scarcity has been noticed and it has been inclu-
ded as “at lower risk” by IUCN Red List (2006).
This small bird is still included within hunting bird lists in Mediterranean countries,
where in autumn-winter many individuals are certainly shot. According to Donald (2004) an
estimated 4-6 million birds are still killed, legally or illegally, by hunters in Europe each year,
but these gures seem unrealistic and possibly they may be largely underestimated. In most
countries, indeed, it is impossible to gather precise data on hunting bag, due to the general
unreliability of the source. In France during the hunting season 1998-1999, it has been estima-
ted that 637 570 birds were shot and further 600 000 were trapped (Barbier et al., 2000). From
1894 to 1929 (35 years) Duse & Toschi (1930) recorded 54 735 Skylarks trapped at a ringing
station on Garda lake (Lombardy).
However, in spite of possible large numbers shot by European hunters, we believe that the
main problem of the Skylark is not hunting, but serious changes in its elective breeding and
wintering habitat.
As regards the status in Italy, authors in the past generally reported it as common and
widespread, while recently they consider it declining. Doderlein (1869-1974) reported it as
partially sedentary, not much common in Modena province, fairly common in Sicily, mainly
in winter. He also wrote that in October very many ocks migrated to winter in Sicily on
lowlands and arable lands. According to Salvadori (1872) it was sedentary in Italy and very
abundant only during migration seasons; he also noticed that it was plentiful in Sicily and
Sardinia. Giglioli (1889, 1907) reported it as sedentary and migrant through Italian regions;
he also recorded a good passage in autumn of ocks wintering in southern Mediterranean
regions. Lucifero (1898-1901) wrote that in Calabria it was sedentary, but generally bred on
the highlands and moved from the mountains to the coast in autumn-winter. Arrigoni degli
Oddi (1929) considered it as much abundant in the South Italian regions and Sicily, mainly
in winter, much more abundant during migration seasons, mainly from mid-October to late
November, less in April. Toschi (1986) reported it as sedentary and migrant bird (October-
November and April), fairly common. According to Foschi (1986) it was fairly common in
the Romagna region, but in the last decades it became less common, both as migrant as well
as breeder bird. Lapini (1997) reports it as more or less stable in Tuscany, locally declining.
Brichetti & Fracasso (2007) and Massimino (2008) consider it as decreasing, disappearing in
regions above Po Valley, elsewhere more or less stable; migrant birds are much scarcer than
in the past. Sardinian population seems to be stable (H. Schenk, pers. comm.). On the whole,
it seems that this lark is more or less stable on breeding grounds all over Italy, while migrant
birds, once common, today appear scarce and difcult to detect; the ocks of hundreds gene-
rally observed and recorded by different authors in southern Italian regions are missing today.
This could be explained only by searching for the reasons of its decline outside Italy, North of
Po Valley. Possibly, among the species here considered, the Woodlark is less declining, prob-he Woodlark is less declining, prob-
ably due to the fact that, even though in winter it occurs in the same habitats as Calandra Lark
and Skylark, during the breeding season it is linked to clearings and wood edges, habitats less
threatened than pseudosteppes.
– 80
Mixed ocks of Woodlarks and Skylarks were regularly observed in South Italy and Sicily
in winter, but the migration of Woodlark through Italy has been generally overlooked (e.g.
Doderlein, 1869-74; Brichetti & Fracasso, 2007). Thus, is not possible to establish if nowadays
this species is as frequent as in the past in its Italian wintering areas. As a breeding bird, it is
generally stable in Italy, islands included (Brichetti & Fracasso, 2007); in Sicily it is locally
increasing at the edge of reafforestations, with a coverage increased by 8.0 % in the 1993-2006
period (Ientile & Massa, 2008).
Data from other European countries are more substantial. According to BirdLife
International (2004) it is a widespread breeder across most of Europe, with a population
between 1 300 000 and 3 300 000 breeding pairs over a more than 75 % of its global
breeding range, that is about 5 000 000 km
, but underwent a large decline between
1970-1990. Although decline continued in a few countries during 1990-2000, it stopped
in most of Europe and now the species seems stable overall. Nevertheless, its population
size remains far below the level preceding its decline; for this reasons it is evaluated as
depleted and listed as Spec2. Greatest numbers breed in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,
Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal,
Romania, Russia, Spain and Turkey. In Greece it is regarded as an indicator species of
rural mosaics, small fields and pastures of low intensity land use, separated by thick
hedgerows and tree lines, which are particularly threatened in the Mediterranean coun-
tries (Kati & Sekercioglu, 2006).
Its status in Italy is reported in the past as stable by many authors, and little declining only
recently. According to Doderlein (1869-1874) it was a sedentary species in Modena province
and in Sicily, where it was very common, sometimes also in the urban surroundings. Salvadori
(1872) considered it as a very common species in Italy, partially sedentary in northern regions,
sedentary in central-southern regions and Sicily, where it could be considered as a “landscape
character”. Giglioli (1889, 1907) reported it as common or very common sedentary species
all over Italy, with the exception of Sardinia, where it was absent in the past, as well as in the
present. According to Lucifero (1898-1901) it was sedentary and very common everywhere in
Calabria, mainly at low altitudes. Arrigoni degli Oddi (1929) considered it a sedentary breeder,
common everywhere, but not abundant, evidently declining, in some areas nearly disappeared.
Toschi (1986) considered it sedentary in most Italian regions, vagrant in winter from northern
to southern regions, absent and local in some areas. According to Foschi (1986) it was very
common in the Romagna region up to 1940, but afterwards it was disappearing. In Tuscany it is
still widespread in lowlands, even if decreasing in intensively cultivated areas (Lapini, 1997).
Brichetti & Fracasso (2007) consider it as decreasing in the Po Valley and generally in the
northern regions up to Tuscany, stable in central-southern regions and Sicily. Overall, a small
decline trend has been recorded in Central-North Italian regions. In Sicily it is one of the com-
monest birds, with a visible increase of 10.4 % of territories in the 1993-2006 period (Ientile
& Massa, 2008). Because the Crested Lark did never show any migratory habit, generally its
populations did not increase during the winter in the past, as well as in the present days. The
habit of the Crested Lark to exploit mainly edges of open habitats is possibly one of the reasons
of its stability in Sicily.
According to BirdLife International (2004) it is a widespread resident across much of
Europe (except the North), with a population between 3 600 000 and 7 600 000 breeding pairs
over a range of about 5 000 000 km
, but underwent a moderate decline between 1970-1990.
Although it was stable (or increasing in south-eastern countries) during 1990-2000, compen-
sating for decline farther North, its population size has clearly not yet recovered to the level
preceding its decline; for this reasons it is evaluated as depleted and recorded as Spec3. Grea-
test numbers breed in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hun-
gary, Italy, Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain, Turkey and
Ukraine. Massa & Fontana (2004) reported also good numbers from Georgia, very common on
cereal and sunowers elds.
– 81
In Italy across more than one century it underwent a notable decline. Doderlein (1869-
1874) wrote that thousands of individuals arrived in southern coasts of Sicily in April, after
they spread on the lowlands and bred; many also migrated through Sicily and Messina Straits
and hunters caught them with guns and nets. According to Salvadori (1872) in April and Octo-
ber very many individuals migrated through northern and central regions of Italy; he consi-
dered it as breeder only in Sicily (and Malta) and perhaps in Sardinia. Giglioli (1889, 1907)
reported it as a migrant breeder in some northern regions, mainly in southern regions, Sicily
and Sardinia, where he considered it as common everywhere in lowlands; additionally he noti-
ced a very good passage from March through April-May and less in September-October until
November. Lucifero (1898-1901) considered it as an abundant migrant bird in March along
the coasts of Calabria, less common in autumn, and scarce as breeder. According to Arrigoni
degli Oddi (1929) in Italy it was a summer breeder, much abundant in central-southern regions,
Sicily and Sardinia, mainly during migration seasons (March-April and September-October),
less common and irregular in the Po Valley. Toschi (1986) considered it a summer breeder in
central-southern Italian regions, Sicily and Sardinia, scarce in the Po Valley, and migrant in
March-April and September-October (today spring migrants are ringed between mid-March
and May: Licheri & Spina, 2002). He also pointed out that its irregular frequency was depen-
dent on the presence of uncultivated land. According to Foschi (1986) it was breeding in the
southern part of Romagna region, where it became very rare. In Tuscany it is scarce, but sta-
ble and seemingly not threatened (Arcamone, 1997). Brichetti & Fracasso (2007) report it as
declining, with very few pairs scattered in northern regions, more common in central-southern
regions, mainly in undisturbed lands. Sardinian population is also considered declining (H.
Schenk, pers. comm.).
On the whole, the Short-toed Lark underwent a very important decline in Italy, possibly
since the 1980s, both as a migrant, as well as a breeding bird. Numbers declined possibly
for changes in agriculture land, intensication and excessive use of fertilizers and biocides.
This species is clearly linked to grassland and cerealicolous-zootechnical areas; where these
habitats disappeared or were reduced, due to agriculture intensication or land abandonment
and shrub spreading, their populations declined drastically. Good examples are the islands of
Lampedusa and Pantelleria, where Steinfatt (1931) and Moltoni (1970, 1973) observed huge
numbers of individuals (440 censused by Steinfatt on Pantelleria in April 1931), but recently it
declined very much and its populations survive only in the area of the airports.
It is also declining in Sicily; according to Ientile & Massa (2008) in the period 1993-
2006 a decrease of 21.2 % of breeding territories has been detected.
In accordance with BirdLife International (2004) it is a widespread summer visitor to
southern and south-eastern Europe, with a population between 7 300 000 and 14 000 000 bree-
ding pairs over a range of about 2 000 000 km
, but underwent a large decline between 1970-
1990. Although several populations were stable or increased during 1990-2000, others declined
and the species underwent a moderate decline (> 10 %) overall; for this reason it is evaluated
as declining and recorded as Spec3. Greatest numbers breed in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece,
Italy, Macedonia, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Turkey. Massa & Fontana (2004) reported also
good numbers from Georgia, very common on cereal and sunowers elds. It generally prefers
ploughed elds, bare ground and short vegetation as nesting habitat.
In Italy and some other Mediterranean countries probably the present decline of this spe-
cies has been overlooked. According to Doderlein (1869-1874) it was partially sedentary, but
rare in the Emilia region, while it was very common and sedentary in Sicily, both on the
lowlands and on the uplands; it was also wintering in some coastal plains. Salvadori (1872)
considered it as sedentary, mainly in southern regions, from Tuscany to South, with very abun-
dant populations in Sicily and Sardinia. Giglioli (1889, 1907) reported it as generally rare and
accidental in northern regions of Italy, with the exception of Po Valley, sedentary in central-
– 82
southern regions, in some of which it was very plentiful and abundant (Apulia, Sicily and
Sardinia). Lucifero (1898-1901) considered it sedentary and very common in Calabria and
stated that in autumn it associated in large ocks along the coasts, causing serious damages to
agriculture, feeding on the just sown seeds of corn and oat; he also believed that the increasing
number in October-November was due to migrant birds wintering in South Italy. Arrigoni degli
Oddi (1929) considered it as a common sedentary bird, mainly on central-southern regions of
Italy and islands; he also recorded the presence of small populations living in the Po Valley.
According to Toschi (1986) it was a local sedentary species in central-southern regions, Sar-
dinia and Sicily, very scarce and vagrant in northern regions. Foschi (1986) considered it as
rare, and pointed out that, following old authors, it bred in the Romagna region until the rst
years of 1900.
Currently, according to Brichetti & Fracasso (2007) it is partially sedentary and breeding
in Sardinia, Sicily, Apulia and Basilicata, scarcer and local in Latium and Calabria, rare in
Abruzzo, Molise and Campania, probably extinct in Tuscany (where it was declining since the
1960s), Umbria and Emilia-Romagna. In Sardinia it is declining, too (H. Schenk, pers. comm.).
Even though in decline, only Sardinia and Apulia populations may be still considered plentiful,
others are in danger of extinction or became extinct.
On the whole, this species may be considered as endangered all over Italy; the reasons of
its decline may be again changes in agriculture. A possibly minor problem for populations of
this bird in the past was the fact that traditionally it was in great demand by people for its song;
many individuals were trapped each year in Sicily and sold as cagebirds (Doderlein, 1869-
1874). According to Whitaker (1905), in southern Italy it was greatly prized for its song, and
caged birds of this species could frequently be seen. It was frequent until the 1980s to nd in
the Sicilian market both Calandra Lark and a special cage to accommodate it, where the roof
was replaced by a hard-wearing material to prevent damage to its head.
Concerning North African countries, Whitaker (1905) wrote that in Tunisia it was extre-
mely common throughout the northern and central districts and, less plentifully, in some of the
more southern parts; he also reported that it was both resident and migratory and that during
the winter vast ocks of this lark could be observed frequenting the cultivated elds and open
country interspersed with patches of corn-land, where food was abundant. Also Heim de Bal-
sac & Mayaud (1962) reported this species as common throughout all the Maghreb, pointing
out its habit to associate in large ocks between summer months and mid-March, that is in the
non-breeding season. Isenmann et al. (2005), conrming the current abundance of Calandra
Lark in Tunisia, report also the winter presence of vagrants, possibly coming from Balkanic
area; they also point out that it is associated with cereal crops.
According to many authorities (Doderlein, Salvadori, Giglioli, etc.), Calandra Lark was
formerly common both in cornelds and grasslands; today it is one of the most declining spe-
cies in all Italian regions. In addition, as regards migration habits of Calandra Larks, Doderlein
(1869-1874, manuscript notes) noticed that in autumn considerable ocks passed, together
with Skylarks, through Ustica Is. and along the Sicilian coasts. It is noteworthy that Giglioli
(1890) wrote about the enormous winter mixed ocks of Skylarks and Calandra Larks in
Sicily; we have already mentioned the decline of the former, as regards the latter, according
to Carvana (in Giglioli 1890) “in February, when the so-called ‘Marzuddo’ wheat [a variety
of hard wheat sown in March and harvested in July, used until the 1960s on inland areas of
Sicily] is sown, great numbers may be captured by means of traps, popularly called arbalest”.
Giglioli (1891) reported the opinion of local ornithologists about some decreasing species; two
of them (L. Dellafonte & O. Garofalo), both from Siracusa (Sicily), wrote that in the Modica
area many species were declining for different reasons, among which the misuse of copper
sulphate by farmers during sowing, that caused the depletion of Calandra Lark, Crested Lark,
Quail (Coturnix coturnix) and Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca).
On a Sicilian sample area of 68 km
, Salvo (1997) estimated the possible population of
500 pairs in 1965, while mapped 75 pairs in 1990 and 37 in 1995, showing the dramatic decline
of this species in the island, demonstrated also by the small number of observations between
July and October in 1995 (81) and 1996 (42). Sicilian Atlas (Ientile & Massa, 2008) reports for
– 83
the period 1979-1992 a total amount of 101 10 x 10 km squares inhabited by this species, while
in the period 1993-2006 only 37 squares covered by it, with a decrease of 21.5 % of occupied
According to BirdLife International (2004) it is a widespread breeder in southern and
south-eastern Europe (except the North), with a population between 10 000 000 and 24 000 000
breeding pairs over a range of about 2 000 000 km
, but underwent a moderate decline between
1970-1990. Although certain populations were stable or increased during 1990-2000, the spe-
cies declined across much of its European range and probably underwent a moderate decline
(> 10 %) overall; for this reasons it is provisionally evaluated as declining and listed as Spec3.
Greatest numbers breed in Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Spain, Turkey
and Ukraine; Massa & Fontana (2004) reported also good numbers from Georgia, very com-
mon on cereal and sunowers elds. Generally, it inhabits fallow elds, but occurs also on
stubbles, which, after the breeding season, offer access to a great abundance of seeds.
Italian populations of this species are more stable than those of other European coun-
tries. Doderlein (1869-1874) considered it as common and partially sedentary in Emilia region,
sedentary and common in Sicily, where it was also wintering. Salvadori (1872) stated that
it was common all over Italy, particularly in Sardinia, where he found it very abundant and
widespread. According to Giglioli (1889, 1907) it was a partially sedentary species in northern
Italian regions, common everywhere in Sicily and Sardinia; additionally he reported a regular
passage in April and September-October, showing that there were populations which wintered
in southern Mediterranean regions and bred in central European ones. Lucifero (1898-1901)
considered it very common along the coasts of Calabria, pointing out that in September and
October huge ocks arrived to winter there and ying back to North in spring. Arrigoni degli
Oddi (1929) reported it as sedentary, very abundant everywhere, partially migrant from nor-
thern to southern regions in September-November and April. According to Toschi (1986) in
Italy it was a sedentary breeder everywhere and migrant (September-November and March-
April), wintering in southern regions. Foschi (1986) wrote that once it was very common
in the Romagna region, but in the last decades it was disappearing. According to Moiana &
Massimino (2008) in Lombardy in the last 20 years it was declining in the lowlands, but now it
appears possibly stable. Concerning the islands, following Ientile & Massa (2008) an increase
of 8.7 % of territories has been detected in Sicily in the 1993-2006 period. Sardinian popula-
tion is also stable (H. Schenk, pers. comm.).
Generally, in the past this species in winter was abundant in Mediterranean countries, and
Whitaker (1905) wrote that during autumn and winter small ocks could be observed on Tuni-
sian stubble elds, in the company of other species, feeding on grains and seeds, and roosting
at night on the ground with larks. Currently, in Italy it is a sedentary and partially migrant bird,
in spring from early March, peaking on late April and continuing until May, in autumn from
September until early November (Spina & Licheri, 2003).
Originally a species of steppes, it is today a typical resident of wide, open agricultural
areas; its typical land utilization is an open, cultivated landscape, with at least a few bushes,
trees, border stones, poles, etc.; preferred biotopes are older fallow lands as well as other
extensive or unused habitats, such as led borders, where arthropods are more plentiful (Meyer
et al., 2007). According to Baillie et al. (2001) the Corn Bunting is a characteristic resident
species of lowland arable farmland, largely dependent on cropped land. It is a characteristic
resident of lowland cereal farming, especially barley, although some individuals breed in other
habitats, as lays and hayelds. Most birds remain in the main areas of cereal cultivation in win-
ter while small numbers migrate to the south and east coast. In winter they feed in ocks, often
on stubbles and weedy elds. Their diet includes seeds (especially cereals), plant material
(such as shoots and buds of grasses) and a range of insects and other invertebrates during the
breeding season (e.g. grasshoppers, earwigs and snails). This species is declining over much
of north-west Europe, but remains common and widespread in southern Europe. Its numbers
and distribution have been declining since the last century, in most areas since the early 1970s.
– 84
It is one of the 36 bird species of greatest conservation concern in Britain and was declining
sharply in geographical range and numbers since the mid ’70. The results of the Common Bird
Census suggest that there was a 76 % decline between 1968 and 1991; the number of breeding
pairs per territory has declined by approximately 85 % over the last 25 years. Additionally, a
32 % decline between the two breeding British atlas periods (1968-72 and 1988-91) has been
recorded. In recent years (1994-1999) there has been a further 22 % decline in England (Bric-
kle & Harper, 2002). It declined by more than 20 % in Germany from 1975 to 1999 (Meyer et
al., 2007). Although the precise factors remain unclear, the loss of extensive mixed farming
would appear to be the key to its decline, and in particular loss of alternative nesting habitats,
advancement of harvest dates and reduction in seed and invertebrate availability (O’Connor
& Shrubb, 1986; Donald & Aebischer, 1997; Brickle & Harper, 2002). Also, loss of winter
food is thought to be a probable cause of the population decline. Baillie et al. (2001) observed
that in 1992-93 weedy stubble elds were by far the most important feeding habitat during the
winter; this kind of habitat has been greatly reduced in recent decades, due to the switch from
spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals, the decline in mixed farming and the disappearance of
undersowing. Additionally, increased herbicide and fertilizer use has reduced the abundance
of wildower seeds. These causes are much similar to those resulting important in the Skylark
The intensication of farming practices, such as the increased use of pesticides and fer-
tilizers, has reduced the availability of insects which are essential as chick food. Changes in
grazing/mowing regimes may reduce nest site availability and breeding success on grassland,
and the decline in mixed farming has led to the disappearance of insect-rich (and reduced
input) undersown spring cereals. Rotational set-aside will have beneted the species, although
this has been signicantly reduced in recent years. Generally, it prefers cereal elds with tall
and dense vegetation; stubbles after the breeding season offer access to a great abundance of
According to BirdLife International (2004) the Corn Bunting is a widespread breeder
across much of Europe, its breeding population is very large, between 7 900 000 and 22 000 000
breeding pairs over about 5 000 000 km
and was stable between 1970-1990; although some
populations (e.g.: in Bulgaria and Romania) remained stable or increased in 1990-2000 decade,
it declined across much of Europe, including Turkey, and uderwent a moderate decline (>10 %).
For this reason it has been provisionally evaluated as declining and recorded as Spec2. Greatest
numbers are reported from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France,
Greece, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montene-
gro, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine.
The decline of birds linked to agroecosystems is a subject of many papers and books,
which demonstrated deterioration in the quality of farmland habitats, affecting both birds and
other elements of biodiversity; this inuenced some changes in the Community Policy (Com-
mission European Communities, 2004; Gregory et al., 2008). Results of regular researches on
the decline of the six above treated species are available only from some European countries
[e.g. Great Britain, Spain, Germany, France (cf. STOC programme on
The seed-eating, or granivorous birds, are among most vulnerable birds to the adverse
effect of intensive agriculture (Siriwardena et al., 1998; Donald et al., 2001a). In western
European countries the decline of seed-eaters is mainly the result of shrinking stubble eld
area due to abandonment of spring sown cereals in favour of winter varieties, as well as dis-
appearance of wild growing weeds wiped out by the massive use of herbicides (Robinson &
Sutherland, 2002). Another damaging factor is the loss of breeding sites following the destruc-
tion of unfarmed landscape elements (eld margins, hedgerows) as a consequence of increas-
ing eld sizes (Gillings & Fuller, 1998). The role of stubble elds as foraging places for birds
– 85
in winter is associated with the occurrence of many weed seeds and spilled grain, including
maize (Orłowski, 2006).
In southern Italy and islands, the most declining species are Calandra Lark and Short-toed
Lark, which are mainly associated with agriculture. However, a small decline trend has been
recorded also for Crested Lark in Central-North Italian regions, showing that some agricultural
changes in those lands were eventually responsible of the number decrease. Also in Tunisia
Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark, together with Skylark are linked to cerealicolous farmlands,
while Crested Lark, Woodlark and Corn Bunting are less dependent from this kind of habitat
(Isenmann et al., 2005). Corn Bunting is linked to extensive agroecosystems, and benets very
much by the presence of perches.
Calandra Lark, Short-toed Lark and Skylark, mainly associated with steppic or pseu-
dosteppic environments and cerealicolous extensive elds, more and more reducing habitats
in South Italy, may have undergone a large decline due to use of herbicides and inorganic
fertilizers, as well as for the pesticide treatment of seeds before sowing. The current use of
terms “extensive” and “intensive” is probably misleading. According to Encyclopaedia Britan-
nica (, extensive agriculture is a “system of crop cultivation using
small amounts of labour and capital in relation to area of land being farmed. The crop yield in
extensive agriculture depends primarily on the natural fertility of the soil, terrain, climate, and
the availability of water. Extensive agriculture is distinguished from intensive agriculture in
that the latter, employing large amounts of labour and capital, enables one to apply fertilizers,
insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides and to plant, cultivate, and often harvest mechanically.
Because extensive agriculture produces a lower yield per unit of land, its use commercially
requires large quantities of land in order to be protable. This demand for land means that
extensive agriculture must be carried on where land values are low in relation to labour and
capital, which in turn means that extensive agriculture is practised where population densities
are low and thus usually at some distance from primary markets”. Generally, birds we are
speaking of are considered associated with extensive agriculture, confusing the fact that they
live in farmlands characterized by wide extent but not considering that “extensive” agriculture
is actually carried out with intensive methods.
The traditional agricultural system was as follows: cereal cultivation for two years, fallow
for 2-3 years, then the farm was ploughed to re-initiate the rotation cycle; the mosaic landscape
resulted in cereal cultivation, fallow land, pastures and ploughed elds, and was based on the
extensive cultivation of cereals in a rotation scheme. Cereals generally are sown in September-
November and harvested in June-July, depending on altitude and varieties; once the resulting
stubbles were grazed by livestock. The main impact of agricultural intensication should be
a loss of fallow land, which would inuence negatively the populations of Calandra Lark and
Short-toed Lark. Also different types of cereals have probably different impacts on the bird
populations; according to Delgado & Moreira (2002) oat seems to be the best choice in terms
of avian conservation, and barley seems to have greater value than wheat. Disturbance of the
soil surface and creation of bare earth patches by grazing activity may also benet seed-eaters
by bringing buried seeds to the surface which would not otherwise be accessible to them (Per-
kins et al., 2000).
Field studies in the USA with granules of aldicarb, carbofuran, disulfoton, phorate, and
terbufos demonstrated that pesticides pose a hazard to birds and mammals and sometimes
other taxa; they concluded that elds treated with granular pesticides may constitute a potential
hazard to birds, which forage on elds and may inadvertently or intentionally pick up these
granules either as grit or, less likely, for food (Luttik & de Snoo, 2004). Intensication process
concerned also southern regions of Europe; since the second post-war period commerciali-
zation of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides spread very much in southern Italy and islands.
The fertilization technique provided for the use of a granular fertilizer before the sowing time
(biammonic phasphate 18-46, containing 18 % of nitrogen in the ammoniacal shape and 46 %
of phosphoric anhydrid) and another treatment in January-February with granular ammonium
nitrate (27 % of nitrogen, half in the ammoniacal shape, half in the nitric shape). The pre-
sowing fertilizing must be very tragic for birds, because granules and seeds were spread at the
– 86
same time and birds very probably ate both, without distinguishing them. Indeed, some elderly
farmers remind that they found tens and tens of Calandra Larks and Corn Buntings dead after
granular fertilizers ingestion. Nowadays, due to the high cost of fertilizers, pre-sowing fertili-
zing is often simplied, using the urea in late December; it may also result dangerous, due to
its granular shape. Notwithstanding, farmers charge the main responsibility with herbicide use
in February-March; birds, indeed, follow tractors during tillage and sowing to eat seeds and
emerged invertebrates, and they follow also them when farmers are spreading herbicides. Only
few statistics on this subject are available; in Sicily mechanization increased remarkably, the
horse-power passed from 223 000 in 1961 to 6 183 000 in 1991 and the mechanical power/
hectares also increased from 880 in 1971 to 4300 in 1999. Among all pesticides the use of
herbicides increased from 9100 kg in 1961 to 1 613 700 in 1999 while fumigants came from
165 300 to 3 875 600 kg (Massa & La Mantia, 2007).
As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons of bird abundance decrease in agricultural
areas observed throughout many parts of Europe is a drastic restriction of winter food sup-is a drastic restriction of winter food sup-
ply, caused by changes in farming practices (Donald et al., 2001b; Robinson & Sutherland,
Farmlands are threatened by further intensication, especially due to eastern countries
having joined the EU; crops subsidies accepted in EU, as part of Common Agriculture Policy,
may stimulate not only higher amounts of pesticides, mineral fertilizers and herbicides, but
also negative changes in farmland structure, enlargement of crop elds by the removal of
marginal habitats, very important for bird diversity (Kujawa, 2002; Báldi et al., 2005). On
the whole, this will result in a further decline of these species that probably will enter into the
category “on verge of extinction”.
Results of a previous research (Massa & Siracusa, 2009) suggest that AEM are the right
track; the direction for future farmland biodiversity research should be to investigate the close
relationships between agricultural land use and animal populations, in particular the inuence
of management practices on survival rates of bird populations, year round ranging behaviour
of farmland birds to verify the temporal and spatial exploitation of cropped and non-cropped
habitats and the relationships between farmland and non farmland populations of each species.
AEM are the most important policy instruments to preserve European biodiversity in agricul-
tural landscapes. However, “they are currently not targeted enough to effectively halt biodi-
versity losses, and recommend better regionalization by offering landscape-context specic
measures, stronger focus on maintenance and improvement of landscape diversity, avoidance
of counterproductive development, and improvement of the coverage of specic conservation
measures” (Wrbka et al., 2008).
True “extensive” agriculture plays an important role in biodiversity conservation,
because it involves wide areas of semi-natural habitats such as grasslands or pseudosteppes,
housing some endangered or rare plant and animal species. The EU Biodiversity Strategy
has set some objectives for agriculture in order to favour the integration of biodiversity
conservation in the agricultural framework; in particular its aim is to promote the conser-
vation and sustainable use of agroecosystems through integration of biodiversity objectives
into the Common Agricultural Police, promotion of low-intensity farming practices, stan-
dards of good agricultural practice and encouragement of the ecological function of rural
The rural development reforms planned for the 2007-2013 period appear to be an oppor-
tunity to resolve some environmentally harmful effects arisen from the measure application in
the previous period. In particular AEM, rewarding farmers who improve farmland with land
able to provide food, shelter and nesting sites for wildlife, should be better designed, more
competitively funded and paid in accordance with the importance of the environmental bene-
ts provided (de la Concha, 2005). Besides, the effects of abandonment on the birds are more
evident on Mediterranean than on Euro-Siberian species (Suárez et al., 2002).
In conclusion, following Ormerod & Watkinson (2000), if farming and agricultural prac-
tices have hitherto been responsible for the reduction of bird populations, they should be able
to restore the losses.
– 87
We are very grateful to Christian Erard for very useful advices, editing and improvements on a rst draft of the
manuscript, and to two anonymous referees for their revision. We thank very much Diego La Mantia and Agostino
Matranga for their valuable account on the past migration of Skylarks in Sicily, Helmar Schenk for information on the
status of birds in Sardinia, Renzo Ientile for useful data on Skylark migration through Messina Strait, and Carlo Di Leo
for drawing the gure.
A.A.V.V. (2004-2005).— Carta delle vocazioni faunistiche della Regione Sardegna Sottoprogetto Studio e monito-
raggio dell’avifauna migratoria di interesse venatorio. Regione Autonoma della Sardegna Assessorato della
Difesa dell’Ambiente (
angeLini, G. (1896).— Contributo allo studio delle migrazioni ornitiche con osservazioni fatte specialmente attorno
allo stretto di Messina. Boll. Soc. romana St. zool., 5: 21-29, 131-146, 177-193.
ahas, R. & aasa, a. (2004).— Attribution of Estonian phyto-, ornitho- and ichtyophenological trends with parame-
ters of changing climate. 16TH Conference on Biometeorology and Aerobiology, 23-27.08.2004, Vancouver.
aRcaMone, E. (1997).— Calandrella Calandrella brachydactyla. Pp 198 in: G. Tellini Florenzano, E. Arcamone, N.
Baccetti, E. Meschini & P. Sposimo (eds.), Atlante degli uccelli nidicanti e svernanti in Toscana (1982-
1992). Quad. Mus. Stor. nat. Livorno, Monograe 1.
aRRigoni d egLi oddi, e. (1929).— Ornitologia italiana. U. Hoepli, Milano.
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... Woodlark Lullula arborea. According to Massa & La Mantia (2010), the Woodlark seems more or less stable on breeding grounds all over Italy, while migrant birds, once common, today appear scarce; the flocks of hundreds, gene rally observed and recorded by different authors in southern Italy, are missing today. Massa & La Mantia (2010) assumed that the Woodlark is less declining, prob ably due to the fact that, even though in winter it occurs in the same habitats as Calandra Lark and Skylark (both declining), during the breeding season it is linked to clearings and wood edges, habitats less threatened than pseudosteppes. ...
... According to Massa & La Mantia (2010), the Woodlark seems more or less stable on breeding grounds all over Italy, while migrant birds, once common, today appear scarce; the flocks of hundreds, gene rally observed and recorded by different authors in southern Italy, are missing today. Massa & La Mantia (2010) assumed that the Woodlark is less declining, prob ably due to the fact that, even though in winter it occurs in the same habitats as Calandra Lark and Skylark (both declining), during the breeding season it is linked to clearings and wood edges, habitats less threatened than pseudosteppes. ...
... The Skylark Alauda arvensis in the past was abundant during the migration and in winter months; many authors between early 1800 (Rafinesque, 1814;Doderlein, 1869Doderlein, -1874 and early-mid 1900 (Whitaker, 1905(Whitaker, , 1920 reported a massive passage in the Gulf of Palermo, estimated as much as some million of individuals, subjected to a systematic hunting. The strong decline in this group of birds, reflecting a general decline in all Europe, begun in 1970s and is still ongoing (Massa & La Mantia, 2010;BirdLife International, 2004. ...
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A new complete check-list of Birds of Sicily is presented in this paper, with a comparison with previous lists for a period of one hundred and fifty years. Further, an unknown manuscript by Joseph Whitaker “Birds of Sicily”, dated back to ca. 1920, has been transcribed and is here presented integrally. Thus, lists of birds here presented have been separated as follows: i) Doderlein (1869–1874); ii) Whitaker (1920); iii) Iapichino & Massa (1989), Lo Valvo et al. (1993) iv) Corso (2005), Ientile & Massa (2008); v) 2010–2020: Massa et al. (2015) and personal observations; vi) long-term trend: personal observations. Overall, 437 species are listed. Out of 283 species regularly present in Sicily, over the long period here considered of one hundred and fifty years, 75 (26.5) resulted to maintain stable populations, 35 (12.4%) resulted increasing, 12 (4.2%) very increasing, 75 (26.5%) with declining populations, 34 (12%) with very declining populations and 11 (3.9%) became extinct. Further, 41 species (14.5%) showed a population trend different from the previous ones, that we classified as fluctuating. We discuss about seventy representatives of the previous categories.
... For some species, as Glareola pratincola and Melanocorypha calandra, breeding in the area is reported for the recent past years (Corso, 2005;Ientile & Massa, 2008) but it has never been ascertained during the study, probably due to the changes on land-use and sericulture (Massa & La Mantia, 2010). Only one ascertained breeding case of Larus genei is reported, for 7.VII.2004 in Pantano Longarini (Corso, 2005), but it has been no more recorded. ...
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The complex of "Sicilian southeast swamp lakes" represents one of the most important wetland of Sicily and south of Italy for many species of birds. A specific, detailed and complete bird checklist of such an important area was never published, so, data were collected on the field from January 2015 to May 2021 and 226 different species were recorded, thanks to weekly bird census funded and promoted by the German foundation Stiftung Pro Artenvielfalt, owner of the two biggest swamp lakes. In addition, data related to 18 additional species recorded in the same area were collected from bibliographic sources and personal communications from other ornithologists and birdwatchers, for a total of 244 species, of which 74 breeding in the area. A first complete checklist is presented in this paper, as well as the remarks of 44 of the most interesting, relevant or unusual bird records, including the most accurate and up-to-date estimates of breeding pairs of Marmaronetta angustirostris, Aythya nyroca and Porphyrio por-phyrio in the study area.
... ESM1). Some of these species were once common in our countryside and today are in decline in Italy and overall in Europe (Massa & La Mantia 2010, Vorisek et al. 2010, Rete Rurale Nazionale & Lipu 2015a, 2015b, Gustin et al. 2016 (Ceccarelli & Gellini 2011). The frequency found is however noteworthy, since in Veneto the species is in strong regression in terms of range and density compared to the early 1990s (Associazione Faunisti Veneti 2013) and since the species generally avoids areas excessively rich in hedgerows, from which predators can better control the hunting territory (Moles & Breen 1995, Sparks et al. 1996. ...
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An agroecosystem with high environmental heterogeneity located in the low Veronese Po plain (Italy) was monitored over a seven-year period, from 2013 to 2019. In the study area three transects representative of three types of environment were selected: arboreal-shrubby hedge, cultivated land, and linear wood. Using a line transect method, five visits were made in each breeding season. For each habitat type, the following indices were calculated: Richness, Relative species frequency, I.K.A., Abundance and Density of territorial males, and Shannon Diversity. A total of 39 breeding species were registered. Whittaker's diagrams highlighted the presence of high levels of richness and diversity in the linear wood and arboreal-shrubby hedge environments. The cultivated area hosts species considered as bioindicators of highly extensive agricultural environments. The characteristics of the arboreal-shrubby hedge seemed optimal to support a well-structured and stable bird community, and some typical species of hedges such as Sylvia communis and Luscinia megarhyn-chos had reached I.K.A. comparable to the highest recorded in Italy. The trends of the main parameters of all three communities did not show statistically significant fluctuations in the years of sampling. The results show a high degree of general ecological interest and conservation importance of the study area, also in comparison of other similar Italian agroecosystems, since we found 14 breeding species of high conservation concern, among which three included in Annex 1 of the 2009 Directive / 147 / EC.
... The difference in the total explained variance here is mainly related to the contribution of the human component (distance to road and edge) in the olive orchards compared to the oases (no effect). Some species are mainly open-land specialist bird species that tend to avoid densely vegetated oases, as recorded by Selmi and Boulinier (2003) for Alectoris barbara, Galerida cristata variables) in explaining bird diversity in oases (a) and olive orchards (b) (Bouam, Bachir, & Katayama, 2017), Galerida cristata uses typical Mediterranean cereal pseudo-steppes (Massa & La Mantia, 2010;Morales, Guerrero, Onate, & Meléndez, 2012) and Cercotrichas galactotes uses olive and orange groves (López & Gil-Delgado, 1988). ...
In southern Tunisia, oases and olive orchards are the two main agroecosystems, hence the importance of investigating their value for native fauna. Using generalized linear mixed models, we assessed the relative value of oases and olive plantations over the wintering and the breeding periods by comparing their avifauna diversity using the Shannon diversity index. We also used data on a series of microhabitat features, anthropogenic pressure, and spatial parameters to identify the best predictors of bird diversity. In total, 32 species belonging to 18 families were recorded. Sedentary birds accounted for 47% of the counts. Our results showed that bird diversity depends on habitat type, being higher in oases than in olive plantations, but not on the season as no difference was recorded during the two periods of wintering and breeding. The assessment of the effects of microhabitat features, anthropogenic pressure, and spatial structure revealed that bird diversity was positively influenced by the cover of trees in oases and olive orchards, negatively affected by distance to edge and that to the paved road in the olive orchards, and spatially structured in both agroecosystems. Variation partitioning analysis revealed that the pure effect of microhabitat features (tree cover) was important in explaining the bird diversity both in oases and olive orchards. The identification of factors affecting bird diversity is of great importance for the efficient management of these agroecosystems. Special attention should be paid to keeping a good tree cover. This cannot be done without: (i) increasing irrigation frequency, (ii) adequate tree maintenance (pruning), and (iii) reduction of pesticide application. Also, the synergy among owners, farmers, managers, and researchers is recommended for the conservation of bird diversity in this North African arid agricultural region. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Stesso tipo di ambiente della Calandrella ma meno arido, con maggiore copertura vegetazionale, meno pascolato. All'interno delle specie di uccelli legati all'ambiente agricolo, la Calandra è quella che più di tutti rischia l'estinzione (MASSA & SIRACUSA, 2009;MASSA & LA MANTIA, 2010). ...
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A distanza di 10 anni dalla pubblicazione dell'ultimo Atlante dei Vertebrati di Sicilia si rivede la distribuzione delle specie nidificanti, alla luce di nuovi dati raccolti, al fine di aggiornare il loro status. Nel presente lavoro vengono elencate solo le specie di uccelli, rilevate in questi ultimi anni, non segnalate come nidificanti nei precedenti Atlanti e le specie già trattate ma che hanno riportato delle variazioni significative nella loro distribuzione. Parole chiave: Atlante, status, avifauna, Sicilia occidentale. SUMMARY Updating of the distribution of some breeding birds in the province of Trapani (Sicily). This work deals with the distribution of the breeding birds in the province of Trapani (western Sicily); here are provided and updated the status of birds on the basis of data collected since the 2013, after the publication of the last Sicilian Atlas of Vertebrates. The present work lists exclusively the species observed in the last years, not found as breeding in the previous Atlases, and the species which, although mentioned in the previous Atlases, underwent a significant variation in their distribution.
... Significant effects of land abandonment on bird communities have been reported, with negative or positive outcomes depending on the species considered in the Alps (Laiolo et al. 2004), and with negative impacts on Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Red-backed Shrike in Abruzzo (Scozzafava & De Sanctis 2006). Several species and communities have been severely affected by intensification, which had been suggested among the main causes of the nation-wide decline of lark species (Massa & La Mantia 2010), and impacts on species occupying very different agricultural systems, such as Corn Bunting in arable land and grassland in northern Apennines (Brambilla et al. 2009b), several common species breeding in vineyards (Assandri et al. 2017a(Assandri et al. , 2016, orchards (Brambilla et al. , 2013c and grassland in Trentino (Assandri et al. 2019), or Woodchat and Lesser Grey Shrike in pseudosteppe and other 'traditional' systems in southern Italy , Chiatante et al. 2014. ...
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Italy harbours a large proportion of the breeding populations of several threatened or declining farmland species, but has been under-represented for a long time in studies about ecology and conservation of farmland birds. In the last two decades, several studies have partially filled the gap, providing key knowledge for their conservation; however, the practical implementation of conservation strategies had been very limited, and many aspects still require research. I analyse the status of farmland birds in Italy, identify main issues for their conservation, and propose directions for effective conservation strategies. Species tied to grassland-like habitats (hay meadow, montane grassland, pasture, pseudosteppe) currently have the most concerning conservation status, followed by species occupying agricultural mosaics and shrubland; only generalist species are performing better and include many species with favourable conservation status. Several factors/pressures negatively affect breeding farmland birds in Italy. Main threats could be tentatively assigned to six “challenges”: agricultural intensification, land abandonment, pest management, low breeding success, difficult practical implementation of conservation measures, within-season shift in distribution and habitat by breeding species. They are interconnected by means of direct effects or by acting on the same ultimate drivers of population dynamics. Such challenges mostly act at two levels: the landscape scale, and the field management level. For each one, I summarise available evidence from studies carried out in Italy, discuss conservation implications and their current/possible implementations, and highlight main needs in terms of future research. In general, key issues for conservation are: planning measures at the right scales; conserving, restoring and correctly managing grassland; conserving/enhancing ‘marginal’ features and heterogeneity; correctly managing ground vegetation in perennial crops; facing the ‘nest crisis’; considering the temporally different suitability and the connectivity among patches; evaluating the economic outcomes and the broader benefits of different conservation strategies. Implementation of measures for farmland birds requires multi-faceted efforts, targeted at different stakeholders; a focus also on the ecosystem services arising from a biodiversity-friendly management could provide a broader support for conservation initiatives. Now it is time to intensively cooperate with practitioners (farmers at first) to translate into management protocols and appealing agri-environmental schemes the conservation implications of research carried out in the last decades.
... by BirdLife International (2004,2017), due to the fact that its distribution covers areas other than Europe (Asia and North Africa). At present it is one of the rarest Alaudidae in Italy and the rest of Europe (Massa & La Mantia 2010), where it is decreasing and it requires in the future a careful analysis of the population trend. Main European popula- tions live in Romania (7%, unknown status), Russia (21%, fluctuating), Spain (28%, decreasing) and Turkey (42%, stable). ...
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Since 1994 BirdLife International embarked on a very important initiative by producing and updating (in 2004 and 2017) a list of Species of European Conservation Concern (SPECs). Notwithstanding, the present authors noted some flaws in the compilation of data and propose improvement to the methodology followed by BirdLife. In particular, the importance to consider local populations, in most cases described as subspecies; as already highlighted by many researchers, the SPECs methods do not consider them as such. Their conservation is necessary for the potential evolution and acquisition of unique characteristics, which represent important components of biological diversity. The effort to consider subspecies has already been carried out by the 2009/147 EU Directive. Some particular cases are reported and commented upon.
... Alcune specie di Alaudidi (Calandra Melanocorypha calandra, Calandrella Calandrella brachydactyla) mostrano un cattivo stato di conservazione conseguente ai cambiamenti di uso del suolo avvenuti soprattutto nelle ultime decadi, ed in particolare all'abbandono delle pratiche agro-pastorali tradizionali (Massa & La Mantia, 2010;La Mantia et al., 2014). ...
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p>Le linee guida comunitarie per monitorare lo stato di conservazione delle specie e degli habitat richiedono che gli Stati membri forniscano un’indicazione del “ Favourable Reference Value ” (FRV), o “Valore di Riferimento Favorevole”. Il FRV rappresenta un obiettivo di conservazione a lungo termine, tale da rappresentare una situazione indubbiamente favorevole per una data specie, in grado di garantirle ottime possibilità di persistenza nel lungo periodo. La disponibilità di FRV consente una valutazione più oggettiva e trasparente dello stato di conservazione di una specie. Il presente lavoro ha valutato lo stato di conservazione delle specie ornitiche nidificanti in Italia, sviluppando un metodo basato sui requisiti delle direttive comunitarie che integra al suo interno la definizione dei valori di riferimento. Attualmente, è stato proposto un metodo per la definizione dei FRV per popolazione, range e habitat per ciascuna specie, ma è stato possibile procedere ad una identificazione su base quantitativa del solo FRV relativo alla popolazione per le specie di uccelli regolarmente nidificanti in Italia e non attualmente in fase di espansione demografica in seguito a recente colonizzazione (ultimi 30 anni). L’approccio sviluppato per definire il FRV di popolazione ha previsto l’utilizzo di tecniche di Population Viability Analysis o, in alternativa, valutazioni basate sulla densità riproduttiva, secondo le caratteristiche di abbondanza e distribuzione delle specie nidificanti (popolazioni maggiori o minori di 2500 coppie, coloniali o non). Sono state prese in considerazione 250 specie nidificanti in Italia, di cui 88 (che comprendono due sottospecie) incluse nell’Allegato I della Direttiva Uccelli (147/2009CE). Complessivamente, per 46 popolazioni appartenenti a 20 specie inserite nell’Allegato I e per 10 popolazioni di 6 specie non incluse, è stato possibile calcolare un valore di FRV attraverso tecniche di PVA. Per 15 specie inserite nell’Allegato e per 92 specie non inserite è stato formulato un FRV in termini di densità riproduttiva a una o due scale spaziali; per le specie con popolazioni superiori a 2500 coppie esigenze spaziali elevate (territori o home ranges di decine di ettari o più) non è stato formulato il FRV a scala locale. Per valutare lo stato di conservazione è stato utilizzato un adattamento della classificazione a “semaforo” proposta dalla Commissione Europea per la Direttiva Habitat, attribuendo a ciascuna delle tre voci considerate (popolazione, range e habitat), un giudizio sintetico: - favorevole: semaforo VERDE. Tutti favorevoli oppure due favorevoli ed uno sconosciuto; - inadeguato: semaforo GIALLO. Uno o più inadeguato/i ma nessuno cattivo; - cattivo: semaforo ROSSO. Uno o più cattivo/i; - sconosciuto semaforo BIANCO. Tre sconosciuti oppure due sconosciuti ed un favorevole. Prima di poter attribuire il giudizio a ciascuna voce, è necessario verificare se vi sono fattori che possono portare almeno uno dei tre valori di riferimento favorevole a non essere raggiunto, mantenuto o raggiungibile nel futuro prossimo ( warning lights ). Complessivamente, 42 specie incluse nell’Allegato I della Direttiva Uccelli hanno stato di conservazione cattivo, 39 inadeguato, 6 favorevole e 1 sconosciuto; tra le specie non inserite, 35 hanno stato di conservazione cattivo, 44 inadeguato, 67 favorevole e 16 sconosciuto Per alcune specie è stato possibile valutare lo stato di conservazione per singole bioregioni e sono state prodotte classificazioni “a semaforo” per ciascuna bioregione ospitante la specie in oggetto. Per essere in stato di conservazione favorevole, una specie non deve essere semplicemente al riparo dal rischio di estinzione, ma deve avere un ruolo “significativo” nel proprio habitat di riferimento, rinvenendosi con frequenze e densità soddisfacenti e ricoprendo le funzioni ecologiche che le sono proprie. Le forti pressioni cui molte specie e popolazioni sono sottoposte (cambiamenti climatici, continuo degrado ambientale, variazioni ad ampia scala nella dinamica di popolazione), rendono necessario valutare accuratamente le minacce e pressioni cui la specie/popolazione sono soggette o potranno esserlo nel prossimo futuro, anche in caso di popolazioni superiori al FRV. Risulta, infine, evidente come i FRV dovranno essere sottoposti a periodica rivalutazione e aggiornamento, sulla base soprattutto dei nuovi dati che ogni sei anni vengono forniti dal Reporting sull’applicazione della Direttiva Uccelli.</p
During the 2019 breeding period we carried out a bird atlas for a small coastal natural reserve (Torre Flavia wetland, Special Protection Area IT6030020, central Italy), comparing quantitative data of spatial occurrences with records from an analogous study carried out in 2005. From 2005 to 2019 some water-related species increased their frequency of occurrence (Fulica atra, significantly). Among the reed and rush-bed species, Acrocephalus scirpaceus spatially increased and Cisticola juncidis decreased significantly. Among ecotonal, synan-thropic and open habitat species, we registered a significant increase of Chloris chloris. A decreasing trend of Passer italiae, Saxicola tor-quatus, Emberiza calandra, although not significant, may be probably linked to regional or continental factors. Both causes at local (reedbed expansion, rushbed reduction, water-level management) and at larger scale (decline in their continental range) can explain the observed changes in spatial occurrences during this medium-long temporal range. Local atlases can be quick tools useful to drive management strategies in remnant wetlands. Key words: local atlases, changes in spatial occurrences, reed beds, rush beds, management strategies, local vs. large scale factors, long term monitoring.
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Aims Changes in numbers of ground-nesting birds are documented for two areas of the Pennines and are qualitatively related to recent land-use history. Methods Territory mapping was used to estimate bird numbers on two areas (76 and 99 ha) in the Pennines for which more than 10 consecutive years of data were available from the BTO's Common Birds Census archives. Results At both sites there were large declines in Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Skylark Alauda arvensis, Twite Carduelis flavirostris and Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus. The two sites differed in the timing of the declines but for Twite the trends were almost identical. By the late 1990s, numbers of most ground-nesting birds were far lower than in the 1970s. There was relatively little change in numbers of species breeding at either site. Conclusions Progressive changes in land-use, involving loss of rough grassland and a switch from dairy to sheep farming, may have contributed to the declines at one of the sites. However, there was no obvious change in land-use or habitat loss at the other site where population declines began 5 to 10 years earlier. Such declines have probably occurred widely in moorland-edge areas during the last 30 years and multiple factors may be responsible.
All European ringing centres, with a few exceptions provided databases of encoded recoveries and of yearly numbers of ringed skylarks. About 90% were ringed as full-grown birds, mostly in Belgium (70%), The Netherlands, Great Britain and France. In Belgium, The Netherlands and France the great majority of ringed birds were autumnal migrators. The normal species breeds from western Europe (including the BritishIsles) to the Urals and the plain of Turkey. The northern boundary runds from the north coast of Norway through the southern part of the Kola peninsula and the mouth of the Petchora to Anderma (Jugorski). Finnish Lapland and northern Russia are thinly populated. Subspecies breed in southern Europe and further east.
To test if the application of Rural Development Regulation 1257/1999 played a possible role in maintaining or increasing biodiversity, monitoring of the avifauna has been carried out in 2004-2005. On the whole, 836 point counts were carried out, 418 in spring and 418 in winter, evenly shared between 16 farmlands entered into F2 and F4 agri-environmental measures, and an equal number of "not enhanced" farmlands, which represented test-farms and control-farms, respectively. Between bird frequencies within test-farms and control-farms statistical differences have been dected; farms entered into agri-environmental measures showed, on average, higher values of species, frequency of occurrence and "priority" species than controls, stressing a general issue: within enhanced farmlands bird communities are richer in species and priority species number. A remarkable species turnover between spring and winter communities has been observed. This may be due to farmland management which eventually influenced in some way the presence of more ecologically exigent species, through the seasons.
Few studies investigate ecological requirements of wintering Skylark Alauda arvensis, most dealing with diet or diurnal field occupancy. This paper presents original data about the nocturnal field use by wintering Skylarks on intensive farmlands in western France. In December 2000 and January 2001, bird abundance and flock size were estimated in 119 fields using the line transect method and a 100 watts searchlight. In each field, variables such as crop type, vegetation height and ground cover were recorded. Crop types included stubbles, winter cereals, ryegrass, set-aside, legumes, oilseed rape and bare ground. We used General Linear Models with Poisson error term to fit models describing skylark abundance according to these variables. 458 Skylarks were counted along 42.42 km. Results showed significant effects of crop type, vegetation height and ground cover on abundance of birds. Skylarks were more abundant in stubble fields. When considering all crop types, skylarks were more abun-dant where vegetation height ranged from 1 to 10cm and ground cover from 10 to 75%. Fields without vegetation were avoided. Large flocks were never recorded. 47.1% of the contacts were single birds and 5.1% were flocks of more than 10 birds. These results are discussed in relation to present knowledge of the diurnal field use and nocturnal flocking behaviour.
The populations of farmland birds in Europe declined markedly during the last quarter of the 20th century, representing a severe threat to biodiversity. Here, we assess whether declines in the populations and ranges of farmland birds across Europe reflect differences in agricultural intensity, which arise largely through differences in political history. Population and range changes were modelled in terms of a number of indices of agricultural intensity. Population declines and range contractions were significantly greater in countries with more intensive agriculture, and significantly higher in the European Union (EU) than in former communist countries. Cereal yield alone explained over 30% of the variation in population trends. The results suggest that recent trends in agriculture have had deleterious and measurable effects on bird populations on a continental scale. We predict that the introduction of EU agricultural policies into former communist countries hoping to accede to the EU in the near future will result in significant declines in the important bird populations there.
Declines in the number of breeding Skylarks Alauda arvensis 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.
1, Skylark numbers declined by 51% between 1968 and 1995 on UK lowland farmland; a loss of approximately 3 million breeding birds. This study examined whether distribution and breeding success of skylarks varied with the cropping of organically and intensively managed fields in southern England in accordance with the hypothesis that changes in agricultural land-use and intensity of management have contributed to this decline. 2, Density was lowest on fields surrounded by tall boundary structures or unsuitable habitat, and those with tall, dense vegetation cover. After controlling for these effects, set-aside and organically-cropped fields supported significantly higher skylark densities throughout the breeding season than intensively cropped fields or grazed pasture. Nests were usually built in crops between 20 and 50 cm tall. In fast-growing broadleaved crops (e.g. oilseed rape, legumes), skylarks held territories, but no nesting activity was observed. Rapid crop growth probably allows too little time for nesting to begin. 3. Breeding success was higher on set-aside than on intensively managed cereals. Predation caused most nest failures, but did not vary in frequency with crop type. Silage cutting and trampling caused many failures on grass fields, and all cases of apparent brood starvation occurred in cereal fields. These breeding success data, together with published estimates of survival rates, suggest that skylark pairs must make 2-3 nesting attempts per season in order for populations to be self-sustaining. A single crop type rarely provides a suitable vegetation structure for nesting throughout the breeding season. Skylarks therefore require structurally diverse crop mosaics in order to make multiple nesting attempts without territory enlargement or abandonment. Mixed farms are more likely to fulfil these requirements than those dominated by winter cereals and broad-leaved crops. 4, These results are consistent with the hypothesis that loss of mixed farming and rotational cropping, and concomitant increases in autumn sowing of crops, agrochemical inputs, multiple silage cuts and grazing intensities since the 1950s have reduced the breeding productivity and population density of skylarks on lowland farmland in southern England. 5, The following recommendations are made for changes in farming systems that would assist the conservation of breeding skylark populations on lowland farmland. Organic farming systems, set-aside and habitat management for gamebirds are all likely to improve nesting and feeding conditions for skylarks, More generally, breeding skylark populations are only likely to increase on farms that reduce agrochemical inputs, reduce grazing intensity and frequency of silage cutting, and increase the structural diversity of field vegetation by adopting mixed rotations of winter and spring cereals, root crops and grass. Traditional mixed farming systems of this kind are now rarely economically desirable. Only agricultural policy reforms motivated in part by environmental concerns rather than solely by production control are likely to direct subsidy support to reduced-intensity, mixed farming enterprises of this kind, and thus help to restore populations of breeding skylarks on lowland farmland.
Aims To investigate the effect of modern farming practices on the number of Corn Bunting breeding attempts. Methods We compared the timing of breeding by Corn Buntings on the South Downs, West Sussex, with the habitat composition within 150 m of their nests. Results Breeding was earlier in areas containing winter-sown wheat and set-aside than in areas containing spring-sown barley. Nests were earlier when cereal crops near the nest were more developed. The presence of unripe grain was a better predictor of the timing of breeding than the height of the crop. Double-brooding was extremely rare and few females re-laid after nest failures. Daily failure probabilities of clutches increased during the season, largely as a result of harvesting operations. Conclusions Changes in the timing of cereal harvesting and the availability of uncultivated nesting habitat may have reduced the incidence of double-brooding in some intensive arable landscapes. Food availability may also limit the onset of breeding, further reducing the possibility of double-brooding.
The following critiques express the opinions of the individual evaluators regarding the strengths, weaknesses, and value of the books they review. As such, the appraisals are subjective assessments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or any official policy of the American Ornithologists' Union.