Selection of foraging habitat and nestling diet by Meadow Pipits Anthus pratensis breeding on intensively grazed moorland

David J. T. Douglas, Darren M. Evans, Stephen M. Redpath

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Capsule Foraging sites with low vegetation height and density, but with high arthropod biomass, are selected.

Aims To test the hypothesis that on intensively grazed moorland, breeding Meadow Pipits forage for nestling food where arthropod prey are most readily available, and therefore that foraging site choice is a function of prey abundance and vegetation structure.

Methods Observations of adults provisioning nestlings were made from hides positioned close to 19 nests within grazed, 3.3-hectare experimental plots at Glen Finglas, Scotland. Vegetation height and density and arthropod abundance from mapped foraging sites were compared with control sites. Prey items fed to nestlings were quantified and compared with their relative abundance.

Results Meadow Pipits selected foraging sites with significantly lower vegetation height and density, but with significantly higher arthropod biomass. Our data suggest that within foraging sites, Meadow Pipits select particular prey types to provision nestlings, in particular, Lepidoptera larvae, adult Tipulidae and Arachnida.

Conclusions In intensively grazed upland systems, it appears that Meadow Pipits select foraging sites that optimize total food abundance and accessibility. In order to understand how anticipated changes to livestock farming in Europe will affect grassland birds, we recommend that future studies should investigate the foraging and vigilance behaviour, diet composition and breeding success of a variety of bird species provisioning nestlings under a range of livestock management scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-296
Number of pages7
JournalBird Study
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • moorland
  • upland birds
  • sheep grazing
  • population declines
  • diet
  • European Union Common Agricultural Policy
  • Meadow Pipit
  • Anthus pratensis


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