The New Forest is home to a variety of ground nesting birds whose numbers have declined in recent decades due to a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, each year these nesting birds suffer human and canine disturbance. The main danger is of adult birds being frightened away from their nests, leaving eggs or young vulnerable to the cold, or to predators such as crows. Whilst signs are put in place to warn dog walkers of these dangers to wildlife, all too often they are ignored.
At this key time of year, on heaths and wet ground please keep yourself and your dogs to the main tracks so that these ground nesting birds can continue to live alongside the many human visitors to the Forest. Birds considered at risk are classified internationally as being on the “red” or “amber” lists. Red list species are those whose population or range has declined rapidly in recent years. Amber list species are those which have an unfavourable conservation status in Europe and whose population or range has declined moderately in recent years The main varieties of bird that are affected are as follows:-
Curlew – The curlew is the largest European wading bird, instantly recognisable on the winter estuaries or summer moors with its long down-curved bill, brown upper parts and long legs. It is included on the Amber list as a bird with important breeding and wintering populations in the UK.
Dartford Warbler – This small dark long-tailed warbler is resident in the south of the UK where the New Forest is is its stronghold. It has suffered in the past from severe winters and its population crashed to a few pairs in the 1960’s, since when it has gradually recovered, increasing in both numbers and range. It is still regarded as an Amber list species. It will perch on top of gorse stem to sing but is often seen as a small flying shape bobbing between bushes.
Lapwing – The black and white appearance and round-winged shape. Also known as the peewit in imitation of its display calls, the proper name Lapwing describes its wavering flight. This familiar farmland bird has suffered significant declines in the last 25 years and is an Amber list species.
Nightjar – Nightjars, a Red listed species, are nocturnal birds and can be seen at dusk and dawn. With pointed wings and long tails their shape is similar to a kestrel or cuckoo. Their cryptic, grey-brown, mottled, streaked and barred plumage provides ideal camouflage in the day time. The first indication that a nightjar is near is usually the male’s unusual churring song, which rises and falls in tone and volume.
Redshank – The redshank is a medium sized wading bird. It has longish red legs and a long, straight bill. It is grey-brown above and whitish below. In flight, it shows very obvious white rear edges to the wings and a white ‘V-shape’ up its back. Only limited numbers nest in the New Forest. It is an Amber list species.
Woodcock – The woodcock is a large bulky wading bird with short legs and a very long straight tapering bill. It is largely nocturnal, spending most of the day in dense cover. Most of the birds in the UK are residents but in the autumn birds move to the UK from Finland and Russia to winter in the New Forest. The breeding population has been falling in recent years and they are an Amber list species.
Snipe – Snipe are medium sized, skulking wading birds with short legs and long straight bills. Both sexes are mottle brown above with paler buff stripes on the back, dark streaks on the chest and pale underparts. The UK snipe population has undergone moderate declines overall in the past 25 years with particularly steep declines in lowland wet grassland such as the New Forest, making it an Amber List species.
Woodlark – It is a streaky brown bird with a buffy-white eye stripe which meets across the nape. The woodlark has a well developed crest on its crown which is not always conspicuous. In flight the peculiarly short tail and broad, rounded wings are noticeable and the deeply undulating flight with closed wing glides is characteristic. It nests on the New Forest heaths and recent population declines make it a Red list species.