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


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.


Embankment Grazing Salt marsh Wadden Sea Wintering passerines 


  1. Bakker JP (1978) Changes in a salt-marsh vegetation as a result of grazing and mowing: a five-year study of permanent plots. Vegetatio 38:77–87Google Scholar
  2. Bakker JP (1985) The impact of grazing on plant communities, plant populations and soil conditions on saltmarshes. Vegetatio 62:391–398Google Scholar
  3. Bakker J.P. (1993) Strategies for grazing management on salt marshes. Wadden Sea Newsl 1993/1:8–10Google Scholar
  4. Bakker JP, de Vries Y. (1992) Germination and early establishment of lower salt-marsh species in grazed and mown salt marsh. J Veg Sci 3:247–252Google Scholar
  5. Bakker, JP, Ruyter JC (1981) Effects of five years grazing on a saltmarsh vegetation. Vegetatio 44:81–100Google Scholar
  6. Bertness MD. (1991) Interspecific interactions among high marsh perennials in a New England salt marsh. Ecology 72:125–137Google Scholar
  7. Bijlsma RG, Hustings F, Camphuysen CJ (2001) Algemene en schaarse vogels van Nederland (Avifauna van Nederland 2). Uitgeverij, Haarlem/UtrechtGoogle Scholar
  8. Bockelmann A-C, Neuhaus R (1999) Competitive exclusion of Elymus athericus from high-stress habitat in a European salt marsh. J Ecol 87:503–513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brehm K (1979) Factors affecting the vegetation of fresh water reservoirs on the German coast. In: Jeffries RL, Davy AJ (eds) Ecological processes in coastal environments. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 603–615Google Scholar
  10. Brongers M, de Vries Y, Bakker JP (1990) Der Einfluß unterschiedlicher Beweidung auf die Salzwiesenvegetation in der Leybucht (Niedersachsen). Natur Landsch 65:311–314Google Scholar
  11. Brown A, Atkinson PW (1996) Habitat association of coastal wintering passerines. Bird Study 43:188–200Google Scholar
  12. Brown A, Crockford N (1997) RSPB report, species action plan 1662. Twite Carduelis flavirostris, a red list species. English Nature, PeterboroughGoogle Scholar
  13. Busche G (1980): Vogelbestände des Wattenmeeres von Schleswig-Holstein. Kilda, GrevenGoogle Scholar
  14. Davies M (1987) Twite and other wintering passerines on the Wash saltmarshes. In: Doody P, Barnett E. (eds) The Wash and its environment. Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough, pp 123–132Google Scholar
  15. Dieckmann R (1988) Entwicklung der Vorländer an der nordfriesischen Festlandsküste. Wasser Boden 3:146–150Google Scholar
  16. Dierschke J (1997) The status of shorelark Eremophila alpestris, twite Carduelis flavirostris and snow bunting Plectrophenax nivalis in the Wadden Sea. Wadden Sea Ecosystem No. 4. Common Wadden Sea Secretariat, Wilhelmshaven, pp 95–114Google Scholar
  17. Dierschke J (2001a) Die Überwinterungsökologie von Ohrenlerchen Eremophila alpestris, Schneeammern Plectrophenax nivalis und Berghänflingen Carduelis flavirostris im Wattenmeer. PhD thesis, University of Oldenburg, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  18. Dierschke J (2001b) Herkunft, Zugwege und Populationsgröße in Europa überwinternder Ohrenlerchen (Eremophila alpestris), Schneeammern (Plectrophenax nivalis) und Berghänflinge (Carduelis flavirostris). Vogelwarte 41:31–43Google Scholar
  19. Dierschke J (2002a) Food preferences of shorelarks Eremophila alpestris, snow buntings Plectrophenax nivalis and twites Carduelis flavirostris wintering in the Wadden Sea. Bird Study 49:263–269Google Scholar
  20. Dierschke J (2002b) Vorkommen und Habitatwahl des Strandpiepers Anthus petrosus im deutschen Wattenmeer. Vogelwelt 123:125–134Google Scholar
  21. Dierßen K, Eischeid I, Härdtle W, Hagge H, Hamann U, Kiehl K, Körber P, Lütke-Twenhöven F, Neuhaus R, Walter J. (1991) Geobotanische Untersuchungen an den Küsten Schleswig-Holsteins. Ber Reinh Tüxen-Ges 3:129–155Google Scholar
  22. Dunning JB Jr, Brown JH (1982) Summer rainfall and winter sparrow densities: a test of the food limitation hypothesis. Auk 99:123–129Google Scholar
  23. Fraser PA, Landsdown PG, Rogers M (1999) Report on scarce migrant birds in Britain in 1996. Br Birds 92:3–35Google Scholar
  24. Gettner S (2003) Vegetationsänderungen in Festland-Salzmarschen an der Westküste Schleswig-Holsteins: elf Jahre nach Änderung der Nutzungen. Kiel Not Pflanzenkd Schleswig-Holstein Hamburg 30:69–83Google Scholar
  25. Heinze C, Kiehl K, Neuhaus R. (1999) Vegetation succession over 30 years in the ungrazed salt marsh of Süderhafen (Nordstrand Island). Senckenbergiana maritima 29 [suppl]:63–66Google Scholar
  26. Heydemann B (1983/84) Das Ökosystem “Küsten-Salzwiese”—ein Überblick. Faun Ökol Mitt 5:249–279Google Scholar
  27. Hildén O (1987) Tunturikiuru katoamassa Suomesta. Lintumies 22:51–59Google Scholar
  28. Kiehl K, Jensen K, Stock M (2003) Langfristige Vegetationsveränderungen in den Wattenmeer-Salzwiesen in Abhängigkeit von Höhenlage und Sedimentation. Kiel Not Pflanzenkd Schleswig-Holstein Hamburg 30:50–68Google Scholar
  29. König D (1960) Beiträge zur Kenntnis der deutschen Salicornien. Mitt Flor Soz Arb 8:5–58Google Scholar
  30. Kramer J (1991) Küstenschutz an der Nordsee mit vorgelagertem Wattenmeer von Den Helder bis Skallingen. In: Prokosch P, Mielke S, Fleet DM (eds) The common future of the Wadden Sea. WWF-Wattenmeerselle, Husum, pp 107–115Google Scholar
  31. Meltofte H, Blew J, Frikke J, Rösner H-U, Smit CJ (1994) Numbers and distribution of waterbirds in the Wadden Sea. Wader Study Group Bull 74, special issueGoogle Scholar
  32. Moorcroft D, Whittingham MJ, Bradbury RB, Wilson JD (2002) The selection of stubble fields by wintering granivorous birds reflects vegetation cover and food abundances. J Appl Ecol 39:535–547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Peach WJ, Siriwardena GM, Gregory RD (1999) Long-term changes in over-winter survival rates explain the decline of reed buntings Emberiza schoeniclus in Britain. J Appl Ecol 36:798–811CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schluter D, Repasky RR (1991) Worldwide limitation of finch densities by food and other factors. Ecology 72:1763–1774Google Scholar
  35. Smith JNM, Montgomerie RD, Taitt MJ, Yom-Tov Y (1980) A winter feeding experiment on an island Song Sparrow population. Oecologia 47:164–170Google Scholar
  36. Stock M, Hofeditz F (2000) Der Einfluss des Salzwiesen-Managements auf die Nutzung des Habitates durch Nonnen- und Ringelgänse. In: Stock M, Kiehl K (eds) Die Salzwiesen der Hamburger Hallig. Schriftenr Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer 11: 43–55Google Scholar
  37. Stock M, Kiehl K, Reinke HD (1997) Salzwiesenschutz im Schleswig-Holsteinischen Wattenmeer. Schriftenr Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer 7Google Scholar
  38. Stock M, Gettner S, Kohlus J, Stumpe H (2001) Flächenentwicklung der Festlandssalzwiesen in Schleswig-Holstein. In: Landesamt für den Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer (eds) Wattenmeermonitoring 2000. Schriftenr Nationalpark Schleswig-Holsteinisches Wattenmeer, special issue: 57–61Google Scholar
  39. Svensson S (1990) An alarming decline of the Shorelark Eremophila alpestris. Proc Nordic Congr Ornithol 6:5–11Google Scholar
  40. Thyen S (2000) Verteilung und Schlupferfolg von Brutvögeln in landwirtschaftlich genutzten Außengroden Niedersachsens. Seevögel 21 special issue 2:45–50Google Scholar
  41. Van Noordwijk-Puijk K, Beeftink WG, Hogeweg P (1979) Vegetation development on salt-marsh flats after disappearance of the tidal factor. Vegetatio 39:1–13Google Scholar
  42. Wolfram C, Hörcher U, Kraus U, Lorenzen D, Neuhaus R, Dierßen K (1998) Die Vegetation des Beltringharder Kooges 1987–1998 (Nordfriesland). Mitt Arb Geobot Schleswig-Holstein Hamburg 58:1–220Google Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations