The Trusts’ radio-tracking study on the life of lapwing chicks features on the new RTÉ television series of ‘The Zoo’

The Trusts’ radio-tracking study on the life of lapwing chicks features on the new RTÉ television series of ‘The Zoo’ this Sunday the 6th May at 6.30 pm.

Tune in and see the Trust working in partnership with Dublin Zoo & the National Parks & Wildlife Service, for the conservation of Ireland’s natural heritage.



Trust’s lapwing chick survival study features in the Irish Examiner


This article appears in the Irish Examiner dated  Friday, April 29, 2016.

The original full article can be read here:

A farmer, walking his fields at this time of year, might come upon a clutch of four little eggs, their pointed ends arranged neatly together in a scrape on the ground, writes Richard Collins

The survival rate of lapwing chicks is alarmingly low and is a threat to the existence of the species here.

These ‘Easter’ eggs were eaten long ago during the seasonal festivities. Their provider, however, was no supernatural visitor but a familiar countryside bird, known as the ‘pee-wit’ ‘green plover’ or ‘lapwing’.

Lapwing Chick Hiding
Lapwing Chick Hiding

This pigeon-sized green black and white wader calls evocatively as it flaps about on dark rounded wings. A wetland bird with a secret yearning to be a thrush, it stalks insect larvae and worms on farmland. In winter, Irish lapwings are joined by visitors from Britain and mainland Europe. Flocks, tens of thousands strong, were common here but not any more.

The lapwing has fallen on lean times; numbers have declined steadily over the last 40 years. There were 88% fewer breeding pairs in 2008 than there had been in 1993. Kieran Buckley of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), who has been studying lapwings, says that ‘we don’t appreciate how bad things are here’.

Changes in land use and farming practices are blamed for the decline but Kieran fears that the raiding of nests by foxes, rats, stray cats, hooded crows, and magpies is also a factor. Predation, he thinks, could be knocking back any chance of recovery. There’s just not enough habitat, he says, and the little that’s left acts as a magnet for predators.

Two years ago, Kieran and his team began studying the survival of lapwing chicks from nests in a 75ha area of cut-away bog owned by the NPWS at Boora, County Offaly. During the 2014 and 2015 nesting seasons, tiny radio transmitters were fitted to chicks in 41 lapwing broods. The youngsters were, on average, nine days old when ringed. Batteries had a life of about 30 days. Radio signals from the units were picked up on portable receivers using handheld directional aerials.

A unit worn by a chick falling victim to a fox might still transmit after it had passed through the predator’s gut. Each youngster was radio-tracked three or four times per week, revealing the types of terrain it preferred and how far it had moved from the nest. Lapwing chicks normally fledge 35 to 40 days after hatching.

Data from this first phase of the project have now been analysed. The results are revealing. Less than one chick (0.86) fledged per brood. Success rates were similar, irrespective of the terrain in which a nest was located. Some chicks remained close to the nest while others moved considerable distances. Moving did not appear to affect a chick’s survival prospects.

Predation was indeed the major threat to the birds; all but one of the chicks recorded dead had been killed by a predator. Foxes were the main culprits, accounting for 47% of deaths, three adult foxes being responsible for most of the carnage. Predatory birds killed 32% of victims while the identity of the killer could not be determined in 16% of cases. Three-day-old chicks were taken. So were 28-day-old ones.

The overall survival rate of chicks might seem to be disastrously low but, in fact, it’s high enough to compensate for the deaths of adult birds in the population and increase the number of breeding pairs. However, the situation at Boora is not representative of lapwing sites elsewhere.

The lands there are managed for the conservation of grey partridges. With foxes and grey crows being systematically removed, it’s a relatively safe haven for nesting lapwings; 122 broods were recorded during the study period. Only if similar control measures are taken at breeding sites elsewhere in Ireland, can lapwings hope to have a future here.

The research at Boora is supported by Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife Park and the NPWS. Kristina Abaruite, Éabhin Byrne, Therese Kelly, Shane Sweeney and Kieran Buckley were members of the research team.

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Trust Lapwing chick survival study reveals some interesting results

  • Lapwing Chick Hiding
    Lapwing Chick Hiding

    Large numbers of hatched chicks do not necessarily equate to a large number of fledged young

  • During this study the breeding productivity of lapwings in Boora was sufficient to offset chick mortality and annual adult mortality and hence to grow the population
  • The level of predator control effort required to achieve the desired conservation outcome may vary according to the habitats locally and the dynamics of predator populations at the site level.
  • Over the two-years of this study, 122 broods of lapwing chicks were recorded in the areas managed for the conservation of the grey partridge.
  • The breeding productivity of lapwings at NPWS lands at Boora may be acting as an important source for seeding other breeding lapwing sites in Ireland.

This study was made possible by the generous support of :

Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife Park, National Parks & Wildlife Service & Perdix Wildlife Solutions

Lapwing chicks from 34 separate broods have been fitted with radio-tags

Lapwing chick fitted with a 0.4grm radio tag
Lapwing chick fitted with a 0.4grm radio tag

Research carried out by the Trust is gathering data on Lapwing chick survival and the causes of mortality. Interestingly this research is been carried out on NPWS lands not managed for breeding lapwing.

They’ve “jockeyed on the back” of management strategies rolled out for the conservation of wild grey partridge! Some very useful data is emerging. We will continue to follow the fortunes of the chicks until they fledge and we run out of radio tags; which by the look of things will happen soon!

Lapwing chick 2  fitted with a 0.4grm radio tag
Lapwing chick 2 fitted with a 0.4grm radio tag

Our research is funded by Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife Park, and the NPWS. We would like to thank volunteers who have helped our researcher Kristina with the radio tracking.

2014 has been a good year for Breeding Lapwing in Boora

This year forty-two broods of lapwing chicks and thirty-four lapwing nests with eggs were recorded on the grey partridge project area in Boora County Offaly.

This is the highest number of lapwing broods ever recorded – a significant figure when one considers that the broods of chicks and the nests with eggs, were recorded in an area of 700 hundred acres.

However, it is not known how many chicks survived to fledge. This question is been explored by our lapwing chick radio-tracking study, which kicked off this year.

This research is funded by the Native Species conservation Committee of Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife Park & the National Parks & Wildlife Service.