Occupied. Rare wrynecks occupied all the bird boxes in the large herbivore reserve and produced their young

2016 - 07 - 01
Occupied. Rare wrynecks occupied all the bird boxes in the large herbivore reserve and produced their young

The first count of the feathered inhabitants of the bird boxes for rare wrynecks ended in huge success. The boxes had been placed by scientists in the large ungulate reserve in Milovice near Prague earlier this year. “Though two boxes were only installed in the middle of April, which is the time that these birds return from their winter quarters in Africa, we are overjoyed by the fact that wrynecks have populated all five of them. During the first nesting in three boxes, we managed to ring the young with a total of twenty-three fledglings. The fledglings had flown from the two remaining boxes before we commenced the ringing, so we could not count them,” said Martin Salek, an ornithologist from the Department of Vertebrate Biology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Installation of nesting boxes is crucial for wrynecks. “Unlike other species of woodpecker, wrynecks do not make their own hollows in trees, and therefore, they are fully dependent on existing hollows. This can be very limited in some areas,” noted Martin Salek.
In Europe, the population of wrynecks has decreased significantly in recent decades, and it has become a rare inhabitant. This has resulted in it being added to the list of endangered species in many regions.

“Just as was the case with many other bird species that lived in the agricultural landscape in great numbers until recently, the population of wrynecks, too, has been greatly influenced by large-scale changes in the environmental structure. These changes have resulted in the disappearance of structurally varied landscapes with a mosaic of meadows and grazing lands and orchards with old, hollowed-out trees, which are the most important nesting environment for the wryneck. Intensive agriculture has drastically decreased the selection of small insects, including ants and their larvae, which are the most important part of the wrynecks’ diet,” Martin Salek described.

According to him, it is not only meadow anthills which are important, but also the structure of the surrounding vegetation. In their territories, wrynecks look for areas with sparse and short vegetation, which allows them to look for food sources.

It is only thanks to the presence of large herbivores in the former military area of Milovice that wrynecks and many other bird species that require short-stemmed vegetation have nearly ideal food conditions, as was suggested by the pilot result of bird monitoring in the Milovice reserve. “In several months, the grazing of large ungulates eased the vegetation and created short-stemmed grassy areas where a number of sunny anthills were built,” said Miloslav Jirku from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Science, describing how the grazing land changed.

Wild horses, European bison and backe-bred aurochs have been introduced one after another in the former military area of Milovice since January 2015. Currently, the area is home to 44 adult animals and 20 juveniles. “It is confirmed here that large ungulates are the key element for renewal of the steppe type landscape. Thanks to them, scientists could count more than a hundred new clumps of endangered star gentian last year, and ring more than twenty rare wrynecks this year,” said Dalibor Dostal, director of European Wildlife conservation organization.

Photo: Miloslav Jirku

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