Use of field margins managed under an agri-environment scheme by foraging Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica
Capsule: Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica were more likely to forage along arable field margins that were enhanced with wildflowers or legumes than control grass margins.
Aims: To determine if foraging Barn Swallows displayed preferences for specific arable field boundary habitats (grass margins versus floristically enhanced margins) that were managed as part of an agri-environment scheme. We also aim to determine how Barn Swallow food abundance related to these habitats.
Methods: Two foraging activity surveys took place on all grass and floristically enhanced margins (n = 56) present within the 600 m foraging range of seven Barn Swallow colonies during June and July 2016. Margin habitat use was measured by recording the presence/absence of foraging individuals during surveys, the total number of individuals and by calculating an index of foraging activity. Habitat information relating to adjacent boundary type, transect crop type and neighbouring crop type were also recorded.
Results: Foraging Barn Swallows were significantly more likely to be recorded when survey transects included a floristically enhanced margin, but there was no significant impact of floristically enhanced margins on the total number of individuals recorded or on the index of foraging activity. Foraging activity was higher along grass verges and hedgerows when compared to treelines and was positively related to length weighted Diptera abundance (a measure of food biomass).
Conclusion: Our results suggest that there may be a role for floristically enhanced margins in the conservation of Barn Swallows on arable farmland. More research, however, is needed to determine whether invertebrate-rich agri-environment scheme habitats can influence colony size or improve the breeding success of this species.