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Spring is on its way and soon it will be time for young birds to start appearing, but before then the adults will be busy making their nests, but where will this be exactly? Most people will say in a tree, but did you know there are many species of birds that actually nest on the ground?

There are some places around the Solent such as the New Forest that provide the perfect habitat for ground nesting birds, ranging from heathland to mires (stretch of swampy or boggy ground).

Some of the ground nesting bird species you might find in and around the New Forest include:

  • Curlew (Numenius arquata)
  • Redshank (Tringa totanus)
  • Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata)
  • Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)
  • Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)
  • Nightjar (Caprimulgus Europaeus)
  • Ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
  • Redshank (Tringa totanus)
  • Reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
  • Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
  • Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)
  • Skylark (Alauda arvensis)
  • Woodlark (Lullula arborea)

This blog will look a little closer at some of our ground nesting wading birds, many of which are becoming rare in the south of England. The New Forest is an important stronghold for these unusual birds and is a designated as a Special Protection Area (like many other parts of the Solent).

All these birds lay their eggs and raise their chicks on the Forest’s open heathlands and wetlands, which makes them more vulnerable to disturbance than birds that nest in trees.

Ground nesting birds are well adapted by having very good camouflage to protect them from predators, but this also means they are susceptible to accidental human disturbance.

Disturbance from humans and dogs can flush the adults from their nest and prevent them from settling, leaving their eggs unattended and exposed. The impacts of this can include:

  • Birds failing to nest or eggs failing to hatch
  • Chicks dying from cold or lack of food
  • Nests becoming vulnerable to predators such as crows and foxes


The Curlew is our largest wader, they feed on coastal mudflats during the winter and then come inland to our moors and heaths to breed in the spring. The species is red listed by the RSPB which means they are globally threatened and their habitat and breeding range has been severely reduced. The New Forest is now one of the only areas of south east England that they still breed, where they are widespread but uncommon with less than 40 nesting pairs. Unfortunately, many of their young suffer from natural predation, so they need all the help they can get from us! Did you know incubation takes a month, but the chicks are able to run around just hours after hatching? The mournful calls and melodious song of the curlew can be heard in the spring as it lays claim to its breeding areas, or sadly if disturbed..


The lapwing is also red listed by the RSPB. It breeds mainly on farmland, especially amongst crops cultivated in the spring where there is bare soil and low cover, but also on pastures, wet grassland, fens, bogs, and marshes. Nesting begins in March with the male making several scrapes on bare ground from which the female will choose one. The young feed themselves soon after hatching and are cared for by both adults. Lapwing are commonly known as ‘peewits’ after their distinctive call that is made repeatedly as they fly at and around predators in defence of their nest. Once very common, its noisy aerial display is a herald of spring. Did you know the lapwing has a shorter bill than other waders and have been known to live over 20 years?


Redshank nest in damp grasslands making a small tent out of grass stems. Unfortunately, this is now a rare site in the New Forest and the redshank is yet another species red listed by the RSPB. Most eggs are laid in May and once hatched both parents will care for the family at first (although the young are already able to self-feed!), but often the female bird will leave before the young can fly. Did you know the redshank is sometimes called the ‘Warden of the Marsh’ because of its loud alarm call that alerts other birds to danger?


Snipe breed on moorland bogs and wet pastures in upland areas, fenland and marshes in low-lying places. In winter they are more widespread and feed in almost any lowland marsh habitat, both around the coast and inland. If disturbed, they fly with a zig-zag flight, but they often crouch and rely on their cryptic camouflage for protection. Nesting begins in April, but some breed as late as August! The male builds the nest on the ground, usually concealed by vegetation. The young are fed by their parents, but once out of the nest the brood is split between the pair, with the male usually taking charge of the first chicks to hatch. This little, long-beaked wader performs an incredible aerobatic display, called drumming, holding its tail feathers out at right angles catching the air and creating a vibrating hum.

So how can we help?

Please help our amazing ground-nesting birds, especially between the 1st March and 31st July (key breeding season) by:

  • Following directions on signs.
  • Keeping yourself (and your dog) to the main pathways.
  • Moving away if you see disturbed or distressed parent birds.

Ranger Mark