|Female Black Lark incubating on a nest with a large dung "pavement", well camouflaged. Maishukyr, Kazakhstan, May 2011 (Johannes Kamp).|
|Black Lark nest (under construction) built into a dung pile, but with many additional dung pieces that were brought to the nest by the female. Maishukyr, Kazakhstan, May 2011 (Ruslan Urazaliev).|
The use of dung in bird nests is not new, however it has only been observed in a few species. It has been shown that dung can create a warmer microclimate in the nests of White Storks (Ciconia ciconia) and it has been hypothesised that it would increase insect abundance and thus prey availability next to nests. However, more reasons can be thought of. A novel hypothesis suggests that birds nest in dung or place dung around their nest to avoid trampling by cattle, sheep or horses as these large grazers would avoid to step into their own faeces. This project will investigate several hypotheses, and the knowledge gained will be used to improve the management of grazing for steppe biodiversity across the rapidly changing steppes.
|Male Black Lark singing from a horse dung pile. Dung seems to play an important role during the entire live-cycle of this enigmatic species. Korgalzhyn, Kazakhstan, May 2006 (Maxim Koshkin).|
Apart from bringing light into the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms in this behaviour, the research will increase the involvement and research capacity of biology students from ACBK's birdwatching clubs, who will support the team during the fieldwork.