Breeding Wader Ecology


Lapwing, Curlew, Snipe and Redshank are characteristic farmland birds chiefly associated with wet-grassland and damp pastures, a habitat that is fast disappearing across Europe. Lapwing and Curlew are on Irelands Red-list of Birds of Conservation Concern due to a 50% decline in their population in the last 25 years, while Redshank and Snipe are on the Amber List having suffered a decline of more than 25%. All four birds are of European Conservation Concern, listed as either SPEC 2 or SPEC 3, due to their unfavourable conservation status in Europe.


Like the Corncrake waders are ground nesting birds, although unlike the Corncrake they are chiefly associated with grazing land. All four species have slightly differing breeding seasons and habitat requirements, however, they all require the availability of suitable, safe breeding habitat throughout May and June. Despite the differences in habitat requirements, generalised conservation measures, that aim to create a mosaic of habitat types, can deliver satisfactory conservation measures for all four species. This mosaic can be met by grazing cattle. Lapwing prefer to nest in very short grass, below 10cm in height, while Redshank and Curlew generally nest in grass tussocks left by grazing cattle. Snipe favour tussocks of rush or sedge but can also be found in grass tussocks.


They all prefer to breed in fields with clear views and an absence of hedges or stand alone trees which can be used as perching posts by avian predators. They each lay four eggs and are single brooded. Unlike passerines the chicks are self-feeding and covered in soft fluffy down with the characteristic long legs and bill of a wader. The chicks leave the nest as soon as they have all hatched, parent birds often moving them considerable distances to suitable feeding grounds, usually wet muddy areas with sparse vegetation or a high water-table.

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Lapwing nest with eggs. Picture by A. Copland.

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Lapwing chick on the move. Picture by B. Caffrey.

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Breeding wader habitat. Picture by K. Finney.

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