As we approach the spring at Parc Slip, one of the reasons we ask our visitors to keep their dogs on a lead now is due to the ground nesting birds on the reserve. Ground nesting birds are particularly vulnerable to disturbance by loose dogs entering the fields where they are breeding. When these birds are disturbed and frightened off the nest the eggs or newly fledged young can get cold very quickly and die, or predators can take the exposed eggs or nestlings.
There are a whole host of bird species that nest on the ground at Parc Slip. An example is the Skylark. If you’re lucky you might spot a Skylark hovering very high up in the sky whilst singing a loud but beautiful descending song. This is the territorial display that Skylarks make during the breeding season, from April until early August. They will choose to nest in areas where the vegetation on the ground is between 20 and 50cm tall and isn’t too dense to allow them easy access to the nest. The nest itself is a simple scrape or hollow in the ground, which the female skylark will line with leaves, grasses and hair from other animals. The nest will become home to between 2 and 6 eggs, which must be incubated for 11 days before they hatch. Skylarks normally attempt 2-3 broods each year, which they need to maintain their population size, however Skylarks numbers are drastically declining. This is thought to be because it is now much more common for farmer’s crops to be sown in the autumn, rather than the spring, which gives them more time to get taller and denser by the time the Skylarks come to breed.
The Snipe is another ground nesting bird which can normally be found on our wet meadows at Parc Slip. Snipe need a mosaic of tall and short vegetation, along with wet invertebrate-rich ground. This type of habitat allows them to nest and feed in close proximity, without the need fly elsewhere, which would advertise the location of the nest to predators. Snipe lay a clutch of 4 eggs in April through to July, in a small scrape lined with grass. Snipe feed mostly on earthworms, beetles and caterpillars, which the parent birds will collect and feed to the young. Snipe have a brood of 4 chicks and parental care is split between the male and female birds so that each takes care of 2 chicks.
Parc Slip is also home to Meadow pipits, Woodcock, Lapwing, and many species of duck which lay their eggs in nests on the ground. These beautiful birds deserve to be protected from disturbance and so we have made these habitats ‘Research Areas’ which are not open for the public to access. However, we know that dogs can’t read the signs! So please help us to protect the wildlife on our nature reserve, and keep your dog on a lead at Parc Slip.