The skylark probably has one of the best-known songs of any of our birds. This is a good thing as you are much more likely to hear it sing than see it close up.
Its size is between that of a sparrow and a starling, it is streaky brown with a small crest which it raises when disturbed, and has white on the trailing edges of its wings...
It is relatively common in Wiltshire, living almost exclusively in arable areas on the downs. It is the male bird that sings both to define its territory and to attract a mate. It is often the first bird to start the dawn chorus and will continue singing throughout the day. When it sings it rises vertically in the air to between 50 and 200 m where it then hovers fluttering its wings to maintain its position. Because it rises so high, quite often you can hear the song but have difficulty identifying the bird against the background sky. The song typically lasts around two minutes (although birds have been observed singing continuously for thirty minutes) before the bird parachutes back down to the ground. The hovering and singing are very energy-intensive so the length of the song is an indication to the female of the fitness the potential mate. The song itself is fast, complex and highly variable and may contain well over four hundred syllables.
The female creates a nest of dried grass in a shallow hollow on the ground well away from the field perimeter and lays three to five eggs.
The female creates a nest of dried grass in a shallow hollow on the ground well away from the field perimeter and lays three to five eggs. The eggs hatch after a very short incubation period whereupon both partners feed the chicks almost exclusively on insects. The chicks leave the nest after 8 to 10 days, before they can fly, and if alarmed will scatter into the vegetation to hide. Because of the open nature of the nest, predation by larger birds and small mammals is high and populations can only be maintained if more than one brood is raised in a season.
From the late 1970s across the country there has been a catastrophic decline in numbers and the skylark is now on the red list of endangered species. The most important reason for the decline has been the increase in the amount of winter wheat sown. This has two effects. Firstly it reduces the amount of stubble on which the birds can forage for spilt grain and insects during the winter. Secondly it means that by the breeding season the crop is too tall and two dense for the birds to find food. The problem has been exacerbated by the greater use of insecticides which have reduced insect populations.
Under the high-level stewardship schemes farmers can receive payment for actions to increase skylark numbers. These involve leaving small bare areas within the crops at a rate of two per hectare and avoiding using herbicides on stubble in the autumn. In a controlled trial in Cambridgeshire skylark numbers trebled, but wide spread adoption of this approach would be necessary for skylark numbers to recover.
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