Journal of Ornithology

, Volume 145, Issue 1, pp 48–58 | Cite as

Habitat selection of wintering passerines in salt marshes of the German Wadden Sea

  • Jochen Dierschke
  • Franz Bairlein
Original Article

Abstract

The salt marshes of the Wadden Sea are important wintering areas for some species of granivorous passerines, which have declined considerably since the 1960s. We investigated the habitat choice of all wintering passerines in eight study areas in German salt marshes with special consideration of human impact on these habitats. Granivorous species that almost exclusively winter in salt marshes, Shorelark (Eremophila alpestris), Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) and Twite (Carduelis flavirostris) were concentrated in the lower salt marsh vegetation and in the driftlines, while all other species preferred the high upper salt marsh communities, although Rock Pipits (Anthus petrosus littoralis) fed in muddy areas along ditches. Shorelarks switched habitat in conditions where seeds were scarce to feed instead on arthropods in upper salt marshes. Intensively sheep-grazed upper salt marshes resemble lower salt marshes in their vegetation and were therefore mainly visited by Shorelarks, Snow Buntings and Twites. In winter, the driftline is preferred by the two former species, while in autumn and spring more birds foraged in the salt marshes. Twites prefer to feed mainly on seeds of Salicornia. Areas with S. europaea are visited mainly in late autumn and early winter, while areas with S. stricta are used throughout the winter because of a steady supply of seeds. Several years after embankment, polders are hardly used any more by the lower salt marsh species as the habitat changes into freshwater marshes. Large embankment projects since the early 1960s have included salt marshes and intertidal flats, and the resultant loss of habitat is responsible for the decline of lower salt marsh species. For other passerine species the effects of reclamation are unknown. The effects of intensified grazing on the wintering populations of Shorelark, Snow Bunting and Twite are still unresolved. Although grazing supports lower salt marsh vegetation, the seed production per plant is much lower there and some important seed producers hardly occur. Since grazing was reduced and embankment projects have been stopped, the salt marsh areas (especially lower salt marshes) have increased and so have the wintering populations of Shorelark, Snow Bunting and Twite. For the other species, the consequences of habitat changes are unknown, although it is suggested that reduced grazing will support them. Reducing the human impact on salt marshes will, in the long run, probably lead to a natural salt marsh with much variety in elevation and in its corresponding vegetation and bird communities. Meanwhile, management by grazing might be required in parts of the salt marshes.

Keywords

Embankment Grazing Salt marsh Wadden Sea Wintering passerines 

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Copyright information

© Dt. Ornithologen-Gesellschaft e.V.  2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jochen Dierschke
    • 1
  • Franz Bairlein
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Vogelforschung “Vogelwarte Helgoland”26386 WilhelmshavenGermany

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