Numbers of buzzards, red kites and ravens have increased appreciably in southern England during the last ten years, such that all three species are now commonly seen foraging over farmland in summer. Where they occur at high densities, it is possible that they are having an impact on the productivity of prey species such as brown hares, lapwings and grey partridges. This may operate through direct predation of leverets and chicks, and indirectly through reduced chick foraging time resulting from disturbance. For example, a change in behaviour in grey partridge has been noticed in the period of increasing predator numbers such that less time is spent foraging and more time is spent in cover.
The GWCT has previously collected data on lapwing responses to avian predators during the breeding season, on or near the proposed study areas, but information on the spatial and temporal activity of the predators is important in better understanding their roles and ways in which their impacts might be mitigated. For instance, daily activity patterns and optimal habitats for hunting can differ between raptorial and corvid species. There may also be interactions between species involving attempted robbing of prey or the scavenging of prey remains following a kill made by another species. At present such evidence is only anecdotal.
The aim of this project is to obtain time-activity budget data for buzzards, red kites and ravens on predominantly arable farms in north Hampshire. The project will involve regular searches of the study areas, stratified according to habitat type, to locate focal birds for observation. Timed watches will then be made from a vehicle and portable hide, with the activities of each species quantified according to predefined behaviour categories and habitat type. Prey capture attempts and success rate will be recorded and examined in relation to habitat. The frequency and nature of interactions between species will be examined.
Quantifying animal time-activity budgets is time-consuming and requires patience and persistence. You should be self-motivated and expect long hours in the field during April-June. Good bird identification skills are desirable.
One place is available, based near Andover, where a caravan will be available for use. GWCT staff from our HQ at Fordingbridge will visit the site regularly to offer advice and will be available to help with statistical analysis and write-up. A driving licence is essential; a vehicle will be available for fieldwork at times, but having your own vehicle is desirable.
A small bursary is available.
Dr Andrew Hoodless