Woodlark

    Substantial local populations of the Woodlark exist in only two regions of Switzerland today: the western Jura mountains and the sun-exposed slopes of the central and upper Valais. To ensure the species’ long-term survival in Switzerland, farming methods and habitat care must be adjusted to the Woodlark’s needs.

    Aims

    Our investigations aim at identifying the key factors that contribute to the habitat requirements of the Woodlark in Switzerland. Despite differences in the occupied habitats in the Jura mountains (pastures) and the Valais (vineyards), we assume that similar habitat factors are important for the species in both regions. Based on the survey results, we will apply conservation measures that should improve the long-term perspective of Woodlark populations in Switzerland.

    Approach

    In 2004 and 2005, we systematically monitored all known Woodlark populations (with the exception of Randen in the Canton of Schaffhausen). We visited all kilometre squares in which the Woodlark was recorded at least once during the breeding season in the last 20 years. As part of the atlas surveys 2013–16, we again monitored Woodlark distribution in the Jura.

    Since 2005, several Master’s theses and a doctoral thesis have investigated the Woodlark’s patterns of habitat use as well as breeding success in the vineyards of the Valais, with a special focus on identifying the best cultivation methods.

    Since 2007, a conservation programme for the Woodlark has been ongoing in the Parc Régional Chasseral, in cooperation with the park managers, Le Foyard (a private environmental organisation), the Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland and the Canton of Bern. In 2015, conservation measures were resumed in the Naturpark Thal, in close collaboration with the park managers and the Canton.

    In the Valais, trees and hedges are being planted in the vineyards in cooperation with the winegrowers to improve habitat structure for typical vineyard birds, including the Woodlark.

    Significance

    Since the mid-20th century, the Woodlark has suffered from a sustained loss of habitat. Conservation measures that improve habitat quality, such as the preservation of rough pastures cultivated at low intensity in the Jura or the ecological enhancement of vineyards in the Valais, are immensely important for the landscape and for many animal and plant species.

    Results

    In the Jura, the Woodlark was observed in only 116 kilometre squares in 2004 and 2005. 104 formerly occupied kilometre squares had been abandoned. Targeted searches for Woodlarks during the atlas surveys 2013–16 confirmed the continuing decline. The species was found in only 78 of the 116 kilometre squares occupied ten years ago. During the atlas surveys, the Woodlark was found in six additional kilometre squares in the Jura. The highest population densities were found in the Cantons of Solothurn, Bern, Neuchâtel and Vaud. The Woodlark has disappeared almost completely in areas below 1100 metres. Several causes have contributed to this steep decline: Pastures are being cultivated more intensively, single trees – used by the Woodlarks as perches – are disappearing, and disturbances in the form of sporting activities are on the increase. Changes in cattle grazing methods are a further threat to the Woodlark. Summer grazing pastures are the species’ most important habitat in the Jura, and it is dependent on traditional, extensive use of pastures.

    In the vineyards of the Valais, (1) small-scale habitat use during foraging and (2) large-scale distribution of territories in relation to vegetation structure were examined. The investigations show that the Woodlark prefers vineyards with sparse vegetation cover and high plant species richness. Ideally, vegetation cover ranges from 40 to 60 %. Vegetation cover is still rare in vineyards in the Valais. But this is a measure that could engender an ideal habitat for numerous birds and other animal species. The most important findings have been put together in a fact sheet (in German and French). Based on satellite images, vegetation cover in the vineyards of the Valais is currently being assessed and related to the occurrence of the Woodlark and other breeding bird species.

    Project management

    Reto Spaar, Alain Jacot, Nadine Apolloni

    Partners

    Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
    Swiss Association for the Protection of Birds SVS/BirdLife Switzerland
    Conservation Biology, University of Bern
    Parc Régional Chasseral
    Naturpark Pfyn-Finges
    Naturpark Thal
    Vitival

    Financial support

    Zigerli-Hegi-Stiftung

    Publications

    Arlettaz, R., M. L. Maurer, P. Mosimann-Kampe, S. Nusslé, F. Abadi, V. Braunisch & M. Schaub (2012):
    New vineyard cultivation practices create patchy ground vegetation, favouring Woodlarks.
    Schaub, M., N. Zbinden, N. Martinez, M. Maurer, A. Ioset, R. Spaar, N. Weisshaupt & R. Arlettaz (2008):
    Végétation clairsemée, un habitat important pour la faune. Fiche Info