A comparison of the feeding ecology of wintering Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus centred on two heathland areas in England

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:1997
Date Published:1997
ISBN Number:1474-919X
Keywords:Acanthis, Acanthis cannabina, Accipitridae, Alauda, Alauda arvensis, Alaudidae, Anthus, Anthus pratensis, Carduelis, Carduelis cannabina, Carduelis chloris, Chloris, Chloris chloris, Circus, Circus cyaneus, Curruca, Curruca undata, Fringillidae, Linaria, Linaria cannabina, Motacillidae, Nannus, Nannus troglodytes, Prunella, Prunella modularis, Prunellidae, Sylvia, Sylvia undata, Sylviidae, Troglodytes, Troglodytes troglodytes, Troglodytidae
Abstract:Small passerines were the principal prey in pellets from Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus communal winter roosts in Breckland and the New Forest. Skylark Alauda arvensis remains predominate in the pellets from Breckland. Dunnock Prunella modularis and Greenfinch Carduelis chloris were also important. The contents of New Forest pellets reflected the position of each roost. In pellets from a roost on the northern edge of New Forest heathland and close to farmland, Skylark was by far the predominant prey. Wren Troglodytes troglodytes and Linnet Carduelis cannabina were the next most important passerines. Pellets from the more extensive heather heathland in the south of the New Forest showed greater dependence on the heathland community of insectivorous passerines, with Wren, Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata and Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis occurring as prey in that order of frequency. Pellets from a roost in northwest New Forest heathland with less heather and closer to farmland contained mainly a mixture of farmland-and heathland-feeding passerines. The directions of arrival and departure at roosts indicated that the Breckland-roosting harriers hunted mainly in arable fenland and the New Forest edge-roosting harriers in arable downland. Counts of the principal passerine prey species in roost catchment areas indicated that Greenfinch and Linnet were most abundant in arable fenland and arable downland squares, respectively, and the Wren was most abundant in the New Forest catchment area as a whole. The influence of the distribution of weed species on the species of seed-eating passerines in prey was investigated. Proportions of passerines in pellets from the Breckland and New Forest edge roosts were positively correlated with the proportions of “grey” males. Proportions of finches in both the Breckland and the New Forest edge-roost pellets declined sharply after January. There was a shift toward lagomorphs in the diet after January and a suggestion that this was positively correlated with the proportions of ringtails at the Breckland roost. Factors affecting prey composition and selection of foraging habitat, the effect of harrier predation on Dartford Warbler numbers and the implications for differential distribution of the harrier sexes in winter are discussed.
Short Title:Ibis
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith