The skylark has lived with humans in open agricultural landscapes for centuries. However, the industrialisation of agriculture has been threatening the skylark’s existence for decades, says BirdLife Switzerland, which has named it Swiss Bird of the Year for 2022.
As Bird of the Year, the skylark should also stand for other threatened species in cultivated land and point to a necessary reorientation of agricultural policy, the organisation said on Thursday.
“Although small and inconspicuous, the skylark is one of the best and most persistent singers in the bird world,” it said. “In spring, it flutters for minutes over fields and meadows, warbling almost non-stop. The male uses his singing skills to win a female.”
The skylark is a ground-breeder. In April the female lays four to six eggs which hatch in 12 days on average. The young birds leave the nest after seven to 12 days – one of the shortest breeding and nesting periods among birds.
But this is no longer enough for safe broods, BirdLife Switzerland said. Skylarks now struggle to find safe breeding places and enough insects and spiders for their young. This is down to heavily fertilised meadows, frequent mowing and thus fewer flowering plants and insects.
As a result, the skylark has practically disappeared from the meadows of the Central Plateau. In canton Zurich, for example, the population declined by 90% between 1977 and 2017.
Only remnant populations
The skylark is also increasingly threatened in the Alps. Populations remain only in areas with many unfertilised and late-mown meadows in biodiversity promotion areas and in protected spaces.
In addition to meadows, the situation for the skylark has also dramatically worsened in fields. Food is scarce, pesticides are killing insects, and strips of arable land as refuges and arable flora are missing.
Although bird conservationists have been able to achieve minor successes nationwide, these are not enough to reverse the trend, BirdLife Switzerland said.
“Only through the right incentives of an ecologically oriented agricultural policy can the skylark and many other once-common species of our cultivated landscape be preserved in the long term,” said director Raffael Ayé.Keystone-SDA/ts