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Plovers enjoy the nightlife!

Peewits stay up late to catch their worms…

Research reported in the latest issue of BTO News shows that Golden Plovers and Lapwings (Green Plovers or Peewits) stay up late to catch their worms. The places they feed at night could be more important than their daytime haunts. As part of his PhD studies with the University of East Anglia, BTO Research Scientist Simon Gillings was out all night investigating the nocturnal habits of Lapwings and Golden Plovers. [Simon Gillings PhD research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the BTO. The work was supervised by Dr. Rob Fuller of the BTO and Professor Bill Sutherland of UEA]. Between October and March of 2000/01 and 2001/02 Simon made twice monthly nocturnal surveys of study area in Norfolk and Suffolk. The results of his research will be of great interest to conservationists, concerned about these declining species. Lapwings and Golden Plovers are a bit like teenagers said Simon they are out all night and then spend the days loafing around. Although birdwatchers knew that these winter plovers feed at night, especially when the moon is full, Simon`s studies showed that they appear to be doing most of their feeding during darkness, just topping up by feeding during the day when necessary.On average a Lapwing needs approximately 600 kJs of energy per day ? that is equivalent to three bananas or a packet of crisps. To meet this daily intake requirement the most efficient way of feeding is to look for large earthworms. A 5? (13cm) earthworm has an energy content of about 10 kJs and Lapwings can find three times as many of these big worms at night as they can in the daytime. This is because the big worms are only active and near the surface during the nighttime. You don`t just have to get up early to find your worm if you are a Lapwing, you have to stay up all night said Simon. There is another advantage to feeding at night. During the daytime a plover which finds a decent sized worm will be hassled by Black-headed Gulls and Starlings, keen to steal the prey item. Next time you see a flock of Lapwings or Golden Plovers sitting in the middle of a field during the winter, apparently doing very little, just remember that these birds, with their large round eyes, are really mainly nocturnal at this time of year. When darkness has fallen a flock of a hundred or a thousand Golden Plover will quietly disperse and spread out over fields over a radius of up to five or 10 km. NB UK breeding Lapwing populations have crashed: a BTO/RSPB Lapwing survey showed a halving of numbers from 1987-1998 ? a trend mirrored in continental Europe. Across Europe, Golden Plover numbers have increased in some areas and decreased in others. The net effects on winter numbers is currently unknown but will be the aim of continued study.

For further information please contact: Simon Gillings on 01842 750050 or e-mail: simon.gillings@bto.org during office hours or Graham Appleton on 01842 750050 or e-mail: graham.appleton@bto.org during office hours

4th July 2014