Chances are, if you’ve been walking through Southern heathland on a bright clear day early in the year you may have had the pleasure of hearing the distinctive song of the Woodlark.
These small birds, about the size of a Greenfinch, can be hard to spot. Usually found on lowland heathland or in forest clearings they like to nest on the ground under heather bushes, grass tussocks or dead bracken. During the breeding season they feed mainly on beetles, caterpillars and spiders which they find by foraging in the soil.
Male Woodlark start to sing early in the year, a nice clear day in early February gives you a great opportunity to hear their song. They like to use the trees at the edge of the clearings, or tree stumps in newly felled plantation as lookout and song posts. You can hear this species singing right through to June/July.
The Woodlark has only recently been added to the green list, meaning it is no longer of conservation concern.
Changes to traditional land management and farming practices, such as grazing on heathland, caused the UK population to dramatically decline. In 1986 there were as few as 250 pairs in Southern England. Thanks to heathland restoration projects and an expansion of forest clearings, Woodlarks have been recovering well. Increases in farmland populations however, are still low, and although officially they are green, many conservationists are still concerned about their numbers and they have been included on our Back from the Brink priority species list as one we really want to work to improve the chances of in Dorset.
There are now more than 3,000 breeding pairs of Woodlark in the UK.
Heathland restoration projects for Woodlark include ensuring there is short turf and bare ground available away from disturbances, these areas need to be near taller heather and grass tussocks that are suitable for nesting. Grazing on the heath helps to maintain the shorter growth. They particularly favour newly felled plantation areas that are being reverted to heathland, the Dorset’s Heathland Heart project is working with local partners on some of these sites.
So, how do you tell a Woodlark from a Skylark?
The Woodlark is smaller and stockier than the Skylark, with richer top colours, the white eye-stripe is bolder and goes round the head to meet at the back. The short tail and bouncing flight pattern means that sometimes it can be confused for a bat. Both have a spiky crest that they flatten usually when feeding and on the ground. The song of the Woodlark is a beautiful liquid song with a downward lilt.
Thanks to continuing heathland improvements RSPB Arne is now the best place in the Purbecks to have a chance of seeing and hearing Woodlark, pop along to the visitor hut or join one of their upcoming public Secrets of the Heaths walks which will focus on looking for Woodlark!
DHH Communications Volunteer
Would you like to help these incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:
- Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
- Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
- Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.