Predator V Wader -Whats eating the chicks?

The Goldcliff Lagoons reserve is alive with activity at the moment. Its breeding season and a number of bird species have been getting down to the business of creating the next generation. But unfortunately for some of these breeders their chicks appear to be not surviving. I am no expert on this but here are some of my thoughts and observations on this. 

There are six species of waders that breed on site (within the safety of the electric fence)-
  • Avocets
  • Ringed Plovers
  • Little Ringed Plovers
  • Oystercatchers
  • Lapwings
  • Redshanks
Non-wading species include -
  • Canadian Geese
  • Greylags
  • Coots
There is probably more including a few duck species etc. I am also not forgetting other species such as Sedge and Reed Warblers but I am keeping this post focused on the wader species that I have bulleted.

The breeding of the waders is closely monitored by the NRW staff and birdwatchers who frequent the site regularly. If you see any predation please complete a form that is located on the Gwent Ornithological Societies webpage (click on this link) as this will help greatly to finding out what is responsible and benefit the NRW chick mortality project they are conducting this year.

A number of the wader species already have chicks. I was watching earlier the week a pair of Avocets with at least 4 chicks. The Lapwings and Plovers additionally have been seen with chicks on Monks ( Lagoon 1).

Avocet with chicks

The whole reserve is more or less designed to give these waders a chance to breed successfully and I am sure all of these breeding waders would not be at the reserve it was not for the boundary fence protection. It deters mainly mammalian predators e.g foxes from getting into the reserve but also stops people ( and those with dogs) getting anywhere near the birds.

However it does not stop avian predators e.g Buzzard and Crows or smaller mammals such as Stoats which can bypass the fence.

Whilst predation is a natural process it needs to be monitored. Many of the wader species are rare schedule 1 protected birds and are those which often struggle to find suitable breeding habitats in the U.K. So there is quite a lot of interest from various parties on what preys on the breeders and in particularly their chicks. Whilst predation is natural and part of nature it would be good if more chicks could make it to adulthood.

I have a few of my top suspects for taking chicks ( in no particular order)-
  • Crows
  • Grey Heron
  • Buzzards
  • Gulls.
  • Stoats
You will note I have made no mention of Marsh Harriers. I am not ruling them out but at the moment I just don't seen them regularly enough. I know they would take chicks given the opportunity but every time I have seen them at Goldcliff Lagoons they have been hunting/taking adult waders. The same can be said for Peregrines and Merlin's. I have heard about any reports concerning Kestrels taking chicks at Goldcliff but you never know but I again would be surprised if they were a main offender.

Stoats have been observed inside the reserve on a number of occasions. I have seen them swimming between the lagoons and islands as well so nothing I think is beyond their reach. They are feisty little mammals so I have included them in my list as I would be surprised if they turned down an opportunity to feed on the chicks.

I've been watching the Crows a lot. There is a pair of Carrion Crows onsite who continually test the defences of the waders. They are crafty and clever birds. One tends to run the gauntlet and get mobbed. It distracts the waders from the second crow that hangs back and swoops in when not been watched.

This weekend  the Carrion Crows were at it again and caused quite some trouble among the waders. I caught a few pictures of one of the pair as it flew past the seawall hide and watched it start to eat something on the grassy bank near Priors. Having examined my pictures I can see that it had an egg in its beak. Not sure what egg the species its from. Possibly a Lapwing?

Carrion Crow with an egg

The Avocets, Lapwings and Shelducks have been putting up a sterling effort to harry and mob anything that looks remotely threatening. The Buzzards I have observed recently have been given a hard time and so far I have not seen one of these land inside the lagoon.

I have seen quite a few gulls including - Great Black Backed, Lesser Black Backed and Herring Guls trying their luck swooping across the reserve and getting mobbed. They are one of natures true opportunists so they may be responsible for some predation.

The Herons have been spending a lot more time on the reserve and I have seen them on numerous occasions making beeline for waders that appear to be sitting on nests. My gut feeling is that these birds have a penchant for chicks.

Cormorants have been appearing also on site a number of people have wondered do they ever eat chicks? I would be interested to know if any of my readers have ever seen cormorant take anything other than fish.

Whist the adult waders have to look after their chicks they also need to look after themselves!

The Peregrines have been active. I have seen them chasing waders on a number of occasions.

Yesterday I watched a Peregrine hurtle across Monks zeroing in on an adult Lapwing. I cant say whether it was successful as both birds went out of view. I am aware of the Peregrines having taken a few Avocets over the last couple of weeks.

Zoom the Peregrine chasing a Lapwing.

On the Marsh Harrier front it has been quiet in terms of sightings on the lagoons. I know they have visited a number of times and caused as usual a commotion in the lagoons but not heard from anyone seeing them take chicks.

It will be interesting to see how things develop throughout the season. Lets hope plenty of keen eyed visitors witness some predation and report it.If any of my readers witness any predation of the chicks please report it using the link above or alternately let me know.


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