Meadow birds in The Netherlands


7 – 18

1 April 19

Maja Roodbergen, Wolf Teunissen


Maja Roodbergen
Sovon Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology, Toernooiveld 1, 6525ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands


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The Netherlands harbours large breeding populations of meadow birds. The most numerous species is Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus (110,000–160,000 breeding pairs), followed by Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus ostralegus (35,000–43,000), Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa limosa (31,000–38,000), Common Redshank Tringa totanus totanus (17,000–20,000), Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata arquata (3,900–4,800), Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago (1,000–1,500) and Ruff Calidris pugnax (15–30). Dunlins Calidris alpina are now extinct as a breeding bird in The Netherlands. These species largely depend on agricultural grasslands, which are changing rapidly due to agricultural upscaling and intensification, a process which until recently has been accelerated by the abolition of milk quota. Since 1990 the trends of most species can be classified as ‘moderate decline’ except for Ruff (‘steep decline’). Recent short-term (2008–2017) trend for Snipe is ‘moderate increase’, for Ruff ‘uncertain’, and for the other species ‘moderate decline’. The declines are caused by insufficient reproduction, especially chick survival. Data from protected nests of the four most common meadow bird species show that nest success lies between 49% and 56% (averaged over 2002–2018). Hardly any data are available on nests that are not protected. Values of reproductive output of Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Oystercatcher (the only species for which this was evaluated) from Dutch studies did not reach the level required for stable populations. Counts of alarming pairs of Black-tailed Godwit in 7–23 sites in the period 2007–2012 indicated percentages of successful pairs varying between 20% and 95%. In most sites (usually with management) an increase in reproductive output was observed. However, estimates based on percentages of colour-ringed juveniles in the period 2012–2017, which are likely more reliable, showed again that in most years the reproductive output of Black-tailed Godwits was not sufficient to maintain a stable population. Survival rates of juveniles and adults of the four most numerous meadow birds have remained stable.

Causes for the declines are the ongoing intensification of agriculture, aggravated by high predation rates and climate change. An additional factor is land use change due to urbanisation and  conversion of permanent grasslands to cut corn and temporary grassland, leading to breeding habitat loss. During the period 2010–2016, conservation efforts for meadow birds consisted of reserves (6.8% of total area under protection), nest protection, both under Agri-Environment Schemes (AES; 42.8%) and voluntary (41%), and other AES schemes (9.4%), such as postponed mowing (5.6%) and creating wet areas for roosting. Nearly 75% of the money spent on meadow bird conservation went to AES schemes, and the remaining 25% to management measures in reserves. Since 2016, major changes have been implemented in meadow bird conservation. These adaptations will need to be evaluated in the near future.