Influence of livestock grazing on meadow pipit foraging behaviour in upland grassland

Charlotte Vandenberghe*, Gina Prior, Nick A. Littlewood, Rob Brooker, Robin Pakeman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Changes in grazing management are believed to be responsible for declines in populations of birds breeding in grassland over the last decades. The relationships between grazing management regimes, vegetation structure and composition and the availability of invertebrate food resources to passerine birds remain poorly understood. In this study, we investigated the foraging site selection of meadow pipits (Anthus pratensis L.) breeding in high intensity sheep-grazed plots or low intensity mixed (i.e. sheep and cattle)-grazed plots. We sampled above-ground invertebrates, measured vegetation height and density and conducted a vegetation survey in areas where meadow pipits were observed to forage and areas that were randomly selected. Birds foraged in areas with a lower vegetation height and density and in areas containing a lower proportion of the dominant, tussock-forming grass species Molinia caerulea. They did not forage in areas with a total higher invertebrate biomass but at areas with preferred vegetation characteristics invertebrate biomass tended to be higher in foraging sites than random sites. The foraging distance of meadow pipits was higher in the intensively grazed plots. Our findings support the hypothesis that resource-independent factors such as food accessibility and forager mobility may determine patch selection and are of more importance as selection criteria than food abundance per se. Food accessibility seems to become an even more important selection criterion under high grazing intensity, where prey abundance and size decrease. In our upland grazing system, a low intensity, mixed grazing regime seems to provide a more suitable combination of sward height, plant diversity, structural heterogeneity and food supply for meadow pipit foraging activity compared to a more intensive grazing regime dominated by sheep.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)662-670
Number of pages9
JournalBasic and Applied Ecology
Issue number7
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Bird feeding
  • Cattle
  • Experimental grazing management
  • Invertebrate abundance
  • Molinia-tussocks
  • Plant composition
  • Prey availability
  • Scotland
  • Sheep
  • Sward structure


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