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Dung Nesters – Sociable Lapwing and Black Lark

Only recently it was discovered that Sociable Lapwing and Black Lark especially have the peculiar habit of piling up animal dung in and around their nests. The use of dung in nests has only been observed in a few other bird species, and the reasons for this odd behaviour are largely unknown. Sociable Lapwings usually just place their clutches into dry dung piles, while Black Larks were even observed to carry horse dung to their nests to build walls and 'pavements' around them. As both species are declining (Sociable Lapwing is Critically Endangered) and their survival seems closely linked with the presence of domestic grazers, the study of the use of dung in nests becomes essential.

In spring 2013, an international team of researchers will be studying this behaviour on the steppes of Kazakhstan, mainly focusing on Black Larks. Black Larks are among the largest lark species, the males being entirely black, except for some whitish fringes on the back in fresh plumage. They are restricted to the steppes of Kazakhstan, where the males also spend the winter, while the females migrate southwards. The birds breed in tall-vegetated steppe from mid-April onwards. Interestingly, sex ratios are strongly skewed and the males outnumber females by far, resulting in strong competition among males for females. During summer the diet consists of ground-dwelling insects, mainly grasshoppers and beetles.

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