FA9 Farmland birds

  This is a state indicator. DPSIR: drivers, pressures, state, impact, responses. Farmland birds declined steeply in the 20th century prior to 1990 (frame). After 1990 the declining trend has continued, but has been much less steep (arrow).
>>Background information



The farmland breeding bird indicator is based on the population indices of 14 species that are most closely linked to open field habitats. The indicator reflects the pan-European distress of farmland birds, which started in the 1950s with the development of intensive farming practices. During the past 30 years the farmland bird populations have decreased on avarage by 40%.

Intensive farming has transformed and diminished the breeding and foraging habitats of farmland birds. Small-scale elements providing shelter from predators have also been greatly reduced in the otherwise open landscape. The individual changes that have had the greatest impact on farmland birds include the substitution of mixed dairy production by specialized cereal and root vegetable production, autumn cereals by spring cereals and cattle manure by chemical fertilizers as well as the proliferation of subsurface draining and intensified use of chemical pesticides and farming machinery. These practices, which were mainly introduced during the 1960s and 1970s, transformed the farmland landscape in a profound manner. Their impact on the amount and quality of breeding and foraging habitats has been mostly negative.

In the graph B the species have been divided into two groups: those breeding on open fields and those preferring field edges.Open field species have decreased nearly for the whole duration of the monitoring period. Only for the past decade has the trend been more stable. On the contrary, field edge species have remained on the same level or even slightly increased during the past years. This supports the conclusion that the greatest changes in the farmland habitat involved the open fields and occurred during the two first decades of the monitoring period.


Farmland birds

Out of the species included in the indicator, the population development of the northern lapwing, eurasian curlew, skylark, meadow pipit and ortolan bunting are most closely connected to changes on open fields. These species both breed and forage on the field. Farming practices carried out on the field during the breeding season often have a deleterious impact on their breeding success. If the open field species have already laid eggs by the time of spring tillage and planting, the risk of their nests being destroyed is great. In addition the quality of the field and its long-term changes affect the species through the availability of food and shelter for nests.

The populations of the Eurasian curlew, meadow pipit, whinchat and ortolan bunting have declined significantly over the monitoring period. The decline of the ortolan bunting has been particularly steep – on average 12% per year. The population of the northern lapwing crashed alredy in the 1980s and now the species is slowly recovering. The only open field species to have increased markedly is the corn crake. However, even its population is not as strong as it was in the early half of the 20th century.

Edge species breed mainly in thickets, field verges and ditch sides. These species are safe from the direct influence of cultivation practices. However, they are indrectly influenced by them since they commonly forage on open fields and are thus effected by the use of pesticides, for example.
Seven edge species are included in the indicator. Three have declined over the monitoring period. Both the population of the barn swallow and house martin have declined for a long time, yet the decline of the latter seems to have stopped recently. The numbers of European starlings plummeted in the 1980s, but have been rather stable or even slowly increasing in the 21st century. The steep decline of cattle farms as a result of the structural changes in agriculture has resulted in less pastures and hay fields and, further, less insects in the farmland landscape. In particular, the decline of the Eurasian starling and barn swallow has been linked with worsening nutritional conditions.

Edge species that have increased include the fieldfare, whitethroat, western jackdaw and Eurasian tree sparrow. The increase of the two latter has been particulalrly strong. Thhe Eurasian tree sparrow has increased even by 15% per year, on average. Both species overwinter in Finland and benefit from the addtional food they find among human settlements.

The farmland breeding bird indicator includes five species migrate over to sub-Seharan Africa: corn crake, barn swallow, house martin, whinchat and whitethroat.

Farmland indicator birds

Corn crake Crex crex
Northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus
Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Barn swallow Hirundo rustica
House martin Delichon urbica
Meadow pipit Anthus pratensis
Whinchat Saxicola rubertra
Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Western jackdaw Corvus monedula
European starling Sturnus vulgaris
Eurasian tree sparrow Passer montanus
Ortolan bunting Emberiza hortulana
This indicator is update once in one to two years.  

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