Tagmann-Ioset, A., M. Schaub, T. S. Reichlin, N. Weisshaupt & R. Arlettaz (2012)

Bare ground as a crucial habitat feature for a rare terrestrially foraging farmland bird of Central Europe.

Further information

Acta Oecologica 39: 25–32



Most farmland birds have declined significantly throughout the world due to agricultural intensification. Agri-environmental policies could not halt the decline of ground-foraging insectivorous farmland birds in Europe, indicating a gap in knowledge of species’ ecological requirements. This represents a major impediment to the development of efficient, evidence-based agri-environmental measures. Using radiotracking we studied habitat selection by farmland Hoopoes, a rare terrestrially foraging bird in Central Europe, and assessed habitat preferences of their main prey (Molecrickets), with the aim to identify optimal foraging habitat profiles in order to guide farmland management. Hierarchical logistic regression modelling of habitat descriptors at actual foraging locations vs. random locations within the home ranges of 13 males showed that the availability of bare ground was the principal determinant of foraging activity, with an optimum of 60-70% bare ground at patch scale. This ideal habitat configuration, which facilitates birds’ terrestrial hunting, was found primarily in intensively farmed fruit tree plantations which dominated the landscape matrix: this habitat offers extensive strips of bare ground due to systematic removal of ground vegetation along tree rows. In contrast, dense grassland and cropland were avoided. Another important habitat feature was the availability of nongravelly soil, which enabled Hoopoes to probe the earth with their long, curved bill in search of underground invertebrates. The role of Molecrickets, however, appeared secondary to foraging patch selection, suggesting that prey accessibility was per se more important than prey abundance. Creating patches of bare ground within modern farmland where sufficient supplies of suitable invertebrate prey exist will support Hoopoe populations.
Keywords: Habitat selection, Farmland birds, Radio-tracking, Food availability, Prey accessibility, Species conservation