Just as no two grassland areas are alike, the birds that live there need different things from their habitat.
The undistinguished looking brown meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) only attracts attention when it spirals out of the sky singing. It resembles a small parachute as it drops slowly between the blades of grass from a great height. It is also happy to use a fence post as a place on which to sit and sing. It builds its nest at ground level, so the grassland must provide enough cover without being too dense or too high, as it must still be able to find its prey. The grassland should also be slightly wet, well used and full of insects, spiders and snails in order for this songbird to thrive. As meadow pipit numbers have declined by almost two-thirds across Europe since 1980, populations across North Rhine Westphalia remain patchy.
The redshank (Tringa totanus) and black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) are more discerning grassland birds. The specific way in which they search for their food by poking at the ground with their long, thin beaks means they require particular characteristics from their environment. Bog pools are ideally suited to these birds, with their sparsely vegetated troughs occasionally filled with shallow water whose soil strata are soft enough to poke through, like other shallow water areas. In contrast, their nest sites should be situated in dry locations with slightly high vegetation. The ground should have a certain nutrient content to ensure rich soil life from which to source food. If the eggs have been successfully hatched, the young become independent quickly and learn to search for food under the supervision of their parents. At this point, low, flower-rich vegetation is required to enable the young birds to eagerly collect insects. In the past, it has become increasingly difficult for these birds to find suitable habitats, and populations of both birds have halved across Europe since 1980.
Although the northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) has experienced a similar decline, it is not currently as rare as the two aforementioned breeds. It can still be found extensively in North Rhine Westphalia’s lowlands, but populations are declining significantly. The northern lapwing prefers to breed in open areas with low-lying vegetation with minimal cover. On grassland, these are extensively managed, wet meadows and pastures with low nutrient content where the grasses grow slowly. The northern lapwing’s mating season is a fascinating spectacle in March and April. Mating pairs swoop unpredictably around each another in mid-air, letting their unmistakeable call resound as they fly.
Meanwhile, the corncrake (Crex crex) requires vegetation to be dense and high on the grassland but low in nutrients. It can only breed successfully on sufficiently large, non-fragmented, wet areas that are not mowed before August. Fewer than 100 calling males have been recorded across the whole of North Rhine Westphalia. Together with the redshank, it is the rarest and most endangered of the grassland birds on which our LIFE project is focused.