Farmland Birds In The Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 15:11 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge

With spring just around the corner, the uplifting sound of birds singing can be enjoyed by anyone who explores the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. But some of our birds, particularly those associated with farmland, are in crisis. Here are six spe...


LAPWING (image)






A stocky brown bird with a chestnut tail and orange-brown face and throat. It has a distinctive horseshoe shaped patch of chocolate on the belly and chestnut-brown flank bars. When flushed it rises suddenly with a load whirring and glides low with downward- arching, stiff wings.

A pigeon-sized black and white bird with a short tail and strongly rounded wings and a deliberate, flapping wing beat. At close range, and especially in sunshine, it has a green and purple irredescence on the upperparts. It also has a unique long, thin, whispy crest

The tree sparrow differs from the house sparrow in having a much smaller black bib and a bright brown cap ( male house sparrows have a grey cap ). It also has a noticeable black patch on the white cheek and is a slightly smaller and slimmer bird than the house sparrow.

This bird is the typically unglamorous 'small brown job' that many people find hard to identify. For a bunting, it is big, with quite a heavy body and stout, pale bill and often looks rather large-headed. Its plumage is not unlike that of a lark or pipit, streaked grey-brown above and buffy-white below.

The turtle dove is the smallest and slimmest of our 5 breeding pigeons. The plumage is chestnut on the back with black markings, whilst the underparts are pinkish. There are a few black and white stripes on the sides of the neck. The black tail is wedge shaped with a bold white border to the tip, conspicuous in flight.

This is a predominantly yellow bird with a long tail. The underparts are bright sulphur yellow, the upper parts are olive-grey. The long, blackish tail has white outer tail feathers. In continental Europe, yellow wagtails have a blue head but in Britain the head is coloured bright yellow and yellow-green.


This is a bird of open farmland, particularly cultivated land but also meadowland. It favours areas where there is cover from hedgerows, grassy margins and ditches, and game cover crops. Its favoured nest site is rank grass margins adjacent to a field boundary like a hedge or stone wall.

The lapwing can be found in a variety of habitats, but in the Cotswolds it is associated largely with open, cultivated farmland where it forms large flocks in winter. They nest on bare ground in open situations in a scrape which is often on a slight rise in the ground.

As the name implies, this is a bird of the countryside and generally avoids urban areas. It prefers areas with mature trees, particularly near streams and ponds. It nests colonially, usually in tree holes or in nestboxes with a hole diameter of 28 millimetres. Tree sparrows will sometimes visit gardens and use bird feeders filled with seed.

In the Cotswolds the corn bunting is a bird of the wold tops. It lives in extensive, open farmland where cereals are grown. It requires elevated songposts which can be isolated trees or bushes, telephone wires or even just a fence post. These birds nest on or near the ground in coarse vegetation.

The turtle dove frequents open lowland deciduous woods and copses with rich undergrowth, mainly in agricultural areas. It is also found in more open country with dense shrubbery, isolated trees and tall, blousy hedgerows. It nests fairly high up in a tree or tall hedge, often where ivy is present.

In much of England the yellow wagtail is associated with damp pastures but in the Cotswolds it can turn up on arable land as well as pasture. Here it is most likely to nest on the ground under arable crops such as field beans and potatoes. They often feed among cattle and horses, snatching at insects stirred up by the animals' hooves.


After breeding in summer, partridges form family groups called 'coveys' that stay together until January or February of the following year. The song is a hoarse, creaking 'kierr-ik' repeated a number of times, often at night as well as during the day. This bird has declined by 88% since 1970 and is still declining.

This bird is variously known as the lapwing, peewit or green plover. In early spring males perform a highly aerobatic rolling and tumbling display flight. The name lapwing comes from it's 'lapping' flight pattern and peewit from it's song, a wild 'p'weet, p'weet'. It has declined by 47% since 1970.

Tree sparrows are gregarious birds, breeding in small, loose colonies and often flocking in winter with finches and buntings. The tree sparrow chirrups like the house sparrow. In the 1960's they underwent a burst of expansion in their range, but since then numbers have declined by 93%. They have now disappeared from large areas of England.

This bird is colloquially known as the 'fat bird of the barley'. The song, delivered for sometimes hour after hour from its songpost, resembles the jangling sound of a bunch of keys. This once common bird has declined by 89% since 1970 and is now absent from large areas of England.

This dove is a summer visitor to England, wintering in Africa. It arrives in late April or early May, departing in September or early October. The birds favourite food is the seed of an arable weed called common fumitory. The song has been likened to the deep purring of a cat. This bird has declined by 86% since 1970.

Another summer visitor, the yellow wagtail arrives in April and leaves in September or early October to winter in Africa. Any yellow wagtail reported in Britain in the winter is almost certain to be a grey wagtail. It has a brief warbling song punctuated by 'tsweep' notes which is given either from a perch or in its bouncy song-flight. It has declined by 69% since 1970.


Partridges require rank grass margins for nesting. The tiny chicks feed themselves on insects and so require insect rich habitats near to the nest site. These can be provided on farms by sowing nectar-rich seed mixtures and leaving unfertilised conservation headlands around the edges of cereal fields. In winter, stubbles and wild bird seed mixtures are used.

Lapwings nest on bare fallow ground in the Cotswolds so leaving sizeable areas of several acres in the centre of large, open arable fields as fallow plots encourages breeding. Nearby pasture provides places for chicks and adults to feed, as do the fallow plots themselves. The favoured food is worms and insects. They feed on farmland in winter, often on ploughed ground.

Providing groups of nestboxes attached to trees, particularly near water bodies, will encourage successful breeding. Chicks are fed on insects, so providing insect rich feeding areas through planting nectar rich seed mixtures and leaving unfertilised conservation headlands and unmanaged field corners will be beneficial. Wild bird seed mixtures and stubbles are used in the winter.

The corn bunting is a late nester, often in crops, and consequently suffers from nests being destroyed during harvest. Providing unharvested areas of cereal crops or leaving field corners unmanaged is beneficial. Providing insect food for chicks through flower-rich field margins, nectar mixes and conservation headlands, and winter food through wild bird seed mixtures and stubbles, will help to see this bird become a familiar sight once again.

Allowing hedges to grow tall and thick provides nest sites for this species. Winter food supplies are not required as the bird is absent in the winter. Cultivating plots of land or field margins in arable crop areas allows arable weeds to germinate which provides seed food for the adults and chicks. Unlike the other birds described in this article, the chicks feed on seeds rather than insects.

Conservation management for this species is not straightforward as this bird's requirements and habits are not as well understood as many other species. However, the provision of insect-rich areas in spring and summer on farmland will help this species as both adults and chicks feed on insects.

The Cotswolds Farmland Bird Project is a partnership project between Natural England, the Cotswold Conservation Board and RSPB. It aims to promote farming practices that are sensitive to the needs of farmland birds, providing the 'Big 3' nesting habitats, summer food for chicks and adult birds, and winter food. It offers financial incentives through Defra's Environmental Stewardship Scheme to land managers in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) where three or more of the six bird species highlighted in this article still occur. For more information about the project, contact Neil Harris by phone on 01905 363455 or by e-mail at

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