Linnet perched on gorse
Photo: Chris Gomershall
These species include some of our most familiar and colourful birds, like chaffinch and goldfinch, of which healthy populations survive in Scotland. For several species, however, there has been some concern over their decline. Amongst these are linnet, twite, tree sparrow, yellowhammer, corn bunting, reed bunting and skylark.
These birds flock together over suitable feeding habitats in winter, and disperse to breeding habitats in the spring. Farmers and crofters play a vital role in caring for these species, as all are dependent on farmland for all or part of the year. They require a range of nesting sites and the Rural Stewardship Scheme can assist in providing these.
- linnets and yellowhammers are to be found typically on farmland areas with hedges and scrub. They nest in scrub, hedges, hedge bases, long grass or low trees (Prescriptions 23, 24, 28 and 29);
- reed buntings are to be found typically on farmland with ditches and reed-fringed wetlands: they often nest along ditches in long grass; in some areas they nest in crops (Prescription 18).
- skylarks and twite are typical of more open farmland landscapes, and both species also occur in upland areas:
- skylarks on lowland farmland nest in open crop/grass fields, well away from tall trees or hedges, but avoid short, tightly grazed grass (Prescriptions 2, 8, 21, 22, 25 & 26). Nests in winter-sown crops are often deserted as crops grow tall. Tramlines in spring-sown crops are favoured nesting and foraging areas. Set-aside can also provide good nesting opportunities.
- twite usually nest in moorland or bracken patches, often on steep ground, adjoining farmland or croftland with abundant weeds.
Flock of feeding finches
Photo: Chris Knights (RSPB Images)
In the winter, all of these species feed on seeds, including cereal grains, grass and weed seeds. Skylarks take a proportion of leaf material from crops or weeds. Cereal grains are the main winter food for only a few species: others depend heavily on seeds of broad-leaved and grass weeds, or oilseed rape. Unharvested crops (Prescription 28) and set-aside will assist with over-winter survival, especially if there are weeds.
In summer, most species feed their young on invertebrates, with particularly important insect groups being weevils, spiders, grasshoppers, craneflies and sawflies. These invertebrates are often dependent on farmland weeds for their existence. Linnet and twite feed their young on weed or unripe oilseed rape seeds. Given appropriate management, RSS can provide summer feeding opportunities - Prescriptions 2, 6, 8, 21, 22, 25 & 26.