The first family of hoopoes in the reserve. Wild horses have written another chapter in the story of the return of this endangered species

2019 - 08 - 06

The first family of hoopoes in the reserve of large ungulates in the former military area of Milovice near Prague was spotted during this summer.

“Parents with a fledgling were spotted just a few meters from the reserve entry,” said Miloslav Jirku from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, describing the happy event. Hoopoes are one of the most endangered bird species in many European countries. This is caused by the fact that large species of insects have disappeared from the environment, including dung beetles, who live in the droppings of large herbivores. Hoopoes feed on the larvae, which they pull out skilfully with their long beaks.

The beetles are killed by residues of poisonous veterinary drugs and antiparasitics that are commonly present in the faeces of domestic animals. In addition, old trees with hollows where hoopoes roost have disappeared, too.

Wild horses, European bison and back-bred aurochs create an ideal environment for hoopoes in the reserve. Low vegetation of sparse grass that is home to crickets is a part of the variegated mosaic that is the result of ungulate grazing. And crickets are an important food for hoopoes.

In addition, the droppings of wild horses do not contain residues of veterinary medicines used against parasites, unlike the droppings of domestic animals, where chemical antiparasitics are commonly used. This is why dung beetles, who dispose of the droppings, fare so well in the reserve. And it is in these droppings that hoopoes find the meaty larvae of the dung beetle. “Hoopoes have optimum food conditions in the pastures of large ungulates. For that matter, this also holds true for other bird species that require open landscape,” ornithologist Martin Salek from the Czech branch of BirdLife International said.

Therefore, the appearance of a hoopoe pair with their fledgling is yet another success for the reserve as far as attempts to rescue endangered species is concerned. “When we noticed the first hoopoe “scout” in the pastures last year, we hoped that it would return this year. So we are really happy that it is not a single hoopoe, but a family with their fledgling,” added Dalibor Dostal, director of European Wildlife conservation organization.

In recent years, conservationists have installed special nesting boxes for hoopoes, the first in 2016, and another last year. Currently, scientists are analysing the material collected from them to find out if hoopoes used any of them for nesting.

Grazing of large ungulates is a key factor in the rescue of the hoopoe. This is evident from experience in Germany. Not a single hoopoe was spotted at the time of the foundation of the Oranienbaumer Heide pasture reserve. Currently, however, dozens of nesting pairs of hoopoes are registered in the reserve. Czech conservationists would like to achieve similar success to their German colleagues. “We believe that our hoopoe family is the first step, and we will be able to boast similar success to Oranienbaumer Heide in a few years’ time,” Dalibor Dostal concluded.

Photo: Wikimedia / Benoît Prieur

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