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Spud they like - those wagtails!

PUBLISHED: 10:39 31 March 2008 | UPDATED: 21:02 07 July 2010

Potatoes are coming to the rescue of yellow wagtails in the UK, according to new research carried out in the region.

The Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology has just published results from the latest study into the breeding success of the species which has seen its population plummet over the past 40 years.

Potatoes are coming to the rescue of yellow wagtails in the UK, according to new research carried out in the region.

The Thetford-based British Trust for Ornithology has just published results from the latest study into the breeding success of the species which has seen its population plummet over the past 40 years.

Once a familiar bird, feeding at the feet of grazing animals in pasture and wet meadows, its numbers have declined by an estimated 65 per cent in the UK since 1970. They migrate to this country from West Africa to breed during the summer months, and the first birds should be returning any day now.

According to Dr James Gilroy of the University of East Anglia, who undertook the research, yellow wagtails need to have two nesting attempts each year if they are raise sufficient youngsters to stem the decline. They nest on the ground, raising their first broods in autumn-sown cereal crops then switching to other crops in June and July, when the cereals become too tall and impenetrable.

Dr Gilroy found that birds looking to establish new nests for their second brood will switch to non-cereal crops including peas and field beans, with potatoes by far the most preferred as the loose canopy appears to be the ideal habitat.

He concluded in his report that: “Yellow wagtail is currently amber listed as a bird of conservation concern. Given that there has been a marked decline since the 1980s, potato crops could be crucial to the future breeding.”

The study was undertaken in Lincolnshire and overall breeding success was relatively low, with 59 attempts failing completely. Most second broods seemed to occur only in potatoes, and the availability of this crop could determine the fate of the species.

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