Eurasian larks are meadow-breeding birds. But due to the intensification of agriculture there are fewer and fewer breeding grounds for Eurasian skylarks and other meadow-breeding birds left. However, there is one place in Germany where numbers of Eurasian skylarks have increased in the last few years. And this place is the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin.
The Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin
The Tempelhofer Feld is located in the south of Berlin in the district Tempelhof-Schöneberg. The area of the Tempelhofer Feld was used as an airport until 2005. But since the 8th of May 2010 the Tempelhofer Feld is open for the public and became since then a very popular recreational area for many city-dwellers. Numerous visitors practice leisure activities on the Tempelhofer Feld like cycling, skating, having a picnic, kitesurfing or going for a walk, but also bird watching.
I always enjoy my time there. The Tempelhofer Feld is a vast open area where I can feel free. No narrow sidewalks. No cars. And no people I have to avoid on the road (at least most of the time). With an area of about 300 hectares, the Tempelhofer Feld encompasses not only large asphalt roads - the formerly airstrips - but also large meadows.
The Tempelhofer Feld opens every day, but depending on the season the opening hours vary between 6:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in the morning and 5:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. in the evening. Only in June and July the Tempelhofer Feld is open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
If you want to avoid large numbers of people I recommend not to visit the Tempelhofer Feld on a weekend or on a beautiful afternoon in summer. As mentioned above, the Tempelhofer Feld is a very popular area for recreational activities.
Another interesting point on the Tempelhofer Feld is the history trail where you can learn more about the past of Berlin. For example, I learned that the only concentration camp during the Second World War was located on the Tempelhofer Feld. And from 1948 to 1949 the formerly airport was used to supply the western part of Berlin via an air bridge when the Allies started with their blockade. Furthermore, the Tempelhofer Feld is closely linked to the history of the German aviation history. In the twenties the Deutsche Lufthansa (German airline) was founded on the Tempelhofer Feld. Thus, it is also worth to take some time to follow the history trail.
Nevertheless, in the next paragraphs I will not write more about the history of the Tempelhofer Feld, but go into the main topic of this blog entry: Eurasian skylarks.
Eurasian skylarks on the Tempelhofer Feld
The intensification of agriculture, the use of pesticides, and the decline of insects have contributed in the last years to a decreasing number of Eurasian skylarks on meadows. Admittedly, the Eurasian skylark is not listed as "endangered" or "threatened" according to the IUCN, but as "least concern". However, there is a negative tendency which corresponds with the decline of many insect species - one of their main food resources.
In 1998 the Eurasian skylark became "Bird of the Year" in Germany. However, the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (German: NABU) says that since then one in four breeding Eurasian skylark vanished in Germany. These observations are concerning. Thus, the Eurasian skylark became "Bird of the Year" again in 2019, in order to attract attention to these birds as a representative for all birds of the fields like lapwings or partridges. Because it is important to raise awareness for these birds and put them more into the center of the public in order to point to their plight.
Interesting: Did you know that there are about 100 species in the lark family (Alaudidae)? In Europe there are about 20 lark species, but only three of them can be observed regularly during the breeding season in Germany: Eurasian skylarks, crested larks, and wood larks.
I have to confess. At the first glance Eurasian skylarks appear rather inconspicuously. But after listening to their long-lasting, chirping and warbling songs, I'm sure that every bird observer will be blown away by these birds. The songs of the Eurasian skylarks always remind me of a beautiful and warm summer day. Of a day were the world still seemed to be all right.
However, the world is not all right. On the contrary. The habitat of Eurasian skylarks and of many other birds (and of course other animals, too) is more and more decreasing. All the more gratifying is it to see that there are places where birds like Eurasian skylarks still can thrive.
Interesting: Did you know that Eurasian skylarks that sing on the ground are most probably females? While females usually stay on the ground to sing, males of Eurasian skylarks typically sing in flight.
Despite high numbers of visitors, the meadows of the Tempelhofer Feld apparently still provides a good breeding ground for an increasing number of Eurasian skylarks. Especially, considering the most recent statistics, Eurasian skylarks seem to look for a breeding ground like the one on the Tempelhofer Feld. For example, in 2005 only about 95 breeding Eurasian skylarks could be counted on the Tempelhofer Feld. But the number increased to 207 breeding birds in 2016. In 2018 there was a new record. In total, 221 breeding birds sought the Tempelhofer Feld as a breeding ground. I'm already curious to look at the new statistics that might be published soon this year.
Eurasian skylarks visit the Tempelhofer Feld approximately from March to October. Breeding season is from March to July. Out of all Eurasian skylarks in Berlin, about 40% occur on the Tempelhofer Feld (in 2005 about 20%). However, the Tempelhofer Feld provides also a habitat for other bird species. In total, 25 breeding bird species could be counted on the Tempelhofer Feld in 2018. In 2016, in contrast, only 22. Nevertheless, in both years Eurasian skylarks constituted the most abundant bird species on the Tempelhofer Feld.
Other bird species that live on the Tempelhofer Feld are house sparrows, corn buntings, European goldfinches, common nightingales, common blackbirds, northern wheatears (left photo), common starlings (right photo), common and lesser whitethroats, or great tits.
There are many different bird species to explore on the Tempelhofer Feld, but no bird is so abundant like the Eurasian skylark. In some places Eurasian skylarks are even the only species. Some other birds could be observed in the past, but apparently now they rather seem to avoid the Tempelhofer Feld like, for example, common chaffinches, quails, or spotted flycatchers. Especially meadow pipits and tawny pipits haven't showed up on the Tempelhofer Feld for some time and probably might not come back.
Interesting: Did you know that northern wheatears use piles of stones and bushes as a breeding ground? Other birds, in contrast, use trees or shrubbery to breed like, for example, common and lesser whitethroats. Therefore, one objective is to structure the Tempelhofer Feld as diverse as possible to offer a breeding ground for a number of different bird species.
One point important to mention here is NOT to disturb Eurasian skylarks especially during the breeding season. Information signs tell visitors not to enter the breeding grounds of the Eurasian skylarks. Because a breeding pair might flee and their eggs or fledglings are left to themselves when they feel disturbed or when visitors chase them off.
Therefore, there are protected zones on the Tempelhofer Feld for Eurasian skylarks. These protected zones are very important. Probably the number of Eurasian skylarks wouldn't have increased in the last years, if they wouldn't have established these protected zones on the Tempelhofer Feld. These protected areas are closed with barrier tape.
Even though Eurasian skylarks seem to be quite tolerant with respect to human activities close-by, most of them breed in one of those protected zones. Apparently, most recreational activities react well with breeding Eurasian skylarks on the Tempelhofer Feld (except kitesurfing, buggy kites and stunt kites). Lawns for sunbathing, barbecue areas or places for dogs are not colonizable for Eurasian skylarks. The birds also avoid places for kite flying. But in general, the given statistics indicate that it is possible that Eurasian skylarks can thrive in an area with human activities around their breeding grounds.
The establishment of these protected zones are seemingly a compromise between conservation and human use for leisure.
The positive growth of Eurasian skylarks can be attributed to these protected zones. As in these zones Eurasian skylarks are left alone and they can breed more calmly. At least most of the time. If all people follow the rules. However, there might be visitors on the Tempelhofer Feld that act rather irresponsible. Thus, Eurasian skylarks are not completely protected against all disturbance.
Important! Please follow the rules of the Tempelhofer Feld. The barrier tapes indicate that it is prohibited to enter the protected zones. Every visitor has to contribute to the conservation of Eurasian skylarks by following the rules and avoiding these areas.
I have visited the Eurasian skylarks on the Tempelhofer Feld several times last summer. Unfortunately, on one morning I had to be witness of a rather unpleasant observation.
I was sitting on the ground of an asphalt path on the side of a protected zone in the middle of the Tempelhofer Feld. I was trying to get some photographs of Eurasian skylarks, and thus, I waited for them to pass by my observation spot. I was busy with my search for Eurasian skylarks and with my camera.
Suddenly I heard a woman screaming. I could not understand her. But when I turned around I immediately understood why. A man left his dog digging in one of the protected zones!
How could he! And how could I not notice him and tell him to stop that! I was closer to him than the screaming woman.
The man became very angry. He did not understand and he was not very sensitive . He insulted the woman with "Fucking fascists!".
I was speechless. I was still sitting on the side of the asphalt road and observed the scene. Luckily, he took his dog and left. But he kept swearing.
I assume that he is not the only one that leaves his dog run on the Tempelhofer Feld during the breeding season, although every dog owner has to use a leash. This is a rule on the Tempelhofer Feld unless you are in one of those areas for dogs.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to protect Eurasian skylarks and other animals from unreasonable persons or people with vandalism feelings. Apparently, one person even destroyed on purpose a nest of a breeding pair of barn swallows in the cabins with the toilets. As the nest was located not high enough, they were not protected against this kind of vandalism...
Important! Please use a leash during the breeding season of the Eurasian skylarks. It is not fair! The birds are weaker and they cannot defend their brood against a dog! Notice that it is a rule to use a leash on the Tempelhofer Feld.
I hope that I don't have to experience a similar situation this year again. Next time I also should not remain speechless on the side of such a scene. I should have supported this woman!
Luckily, there are more great efforts to protect the Eurasian skylarks and other animals on the Tempelhofer Feld.
Another example are the skuddes on the Tempelhofer Feld. Until 2019 meadows of the Tempelhofer Feld were cut twice a year. Meaning that at the beginning of April when the breeding season started the meadows were short, and in July knee-high or waist-high.
However, in order to increase biodiversity on the Tempelhofer Feld, since August 2019 skuddes are used for grazing. Skuddes are a breed of sheep and endangered. Although it is just a pilot project at the moment, further observations will show if these sheep help to increase biodiversity on the Tempelhofer Feld in the next years. It is expected that grazing the meadows with skuddes is a more considerate landscape conservation.
Interesting: The Tempelhofer Feld is actually already quite rich in species. For example, 236 species of bees and wasps were already observed. But also numerous insect and spider species could be already detected on the Tempelhofer Feld. Apparently, 112 spider species could be counted in the area. With luck and patience it is also possible to see one of the 68 ground beetles.
Species portrait: Eurasian skylarks
The Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis) belongs to the lark family (Alaudidae) like the crested lark (Galerida cristata) and the wood lark (Lullala arborea). Eurasian skylarks are reddish-brown. Their camouflaging plumage helps them to protect themselves against predators. They have thin and dark streaks on their head, back and rump, but also a white supercilium.
It is very easy to oversee an Eurasian skylark with its camouflaging feathers and its appearance is not comparable with the colorful birds in Brazil. But still, Eurasian skylarks have something very special that thrills many bird enthusiasts.
The bird has a size of about 16-18 cm, and thus, is slightly larger than a house sparrow.
Interesting: Eurasian skylarks are not to be confused with crested skylarks. As Eurasian skylarks sometimes arrange their feathers on their head to a small crest, they sometimes might look like a crested skylark. However, in other moments the feathers of a Eurasian skylark just lie smoothly on the head without showing any crest.
One interesting fact about Eurasian skylarks is, that they can breed up to three times in one breeding season. Whereas, apparently, it was already observed that some Eurasian skylarks can breed even up to six times in one year. Therefore, fledglings have to be independent after about three weeks. After those three weeks they have already the appearance of an adult individual.
Why is it like that? Maybe it is because they breed on the ground? After mating females look for a dry and flat place with little vegetation in the meadow. On a place like this, Eurasian skylarks are exposed to their predators, and thus, many fledglings might not reach adulthood at all. But on the other hand, it is easier to spot a predator on a flat and open landscape like in a meadow...
Nevertheless, only females build the nest. Males do not help. They only support the female after the fledglings have hatched by searching for food.
Interesting: Fledglings of Eurasian skylarks are bald and blind when they are born, but after 7 to 11 days they leave already the nest for the first time. In this way they protect themselves against nest robber. After two weeks they start with their first flight attempts.
Depending on the season, Eurasian skylarks feed on either plants or small insects and spiders. During winter they primarily rely on plants as food, while in spring and summer they search for small animals. They not only feed on plants, insects, and spiders, but also on earthworms and small snails.
Eurasian skylarks prefer open and extensive landscapes like meadows or pastures, but also arable lands. They need an unobstructed view in order to detect a predator as fast as possible. Therefore, they avoid nesting on the edge of the forest or in hedgerows. They also need a low vegetation so that they can build their nests on the ground.
The Eurasian skylark is a short-distance migrant, but in western Europe they might not migrate at all. In Central Europe, in contrast, they migrate in autumn to the south and stay, for example, in southern France or Spain. In spring they come back for breeding.
Interesting: Did you know that the most eastern distribution of Eurasian skylarks extends to Japan? Eurasian skylarks are not distributed only in Europe. Furthermore, Eurasian skylarks relocate themselves in winter further south. Thus, they also can be observed in the African Mediterranean region. As Eurasian skylarks were introduced in some parts of the world like in New Zealand or Tasmania in Australia, Eurasian skylarks even occur at these places.
Although Eurasian skylarks have a wide distribution, their population numbers are in decline. One reason is the intensification of agriculture. The Eurasian skylark as a synanthropic bird has benefited by the expansion of arable land in the past, however, due to the intensification of agriculture, Eurasian skylarks loose more and more breeding habitats. That is one reason why their numbers continue to decrease. And all this does not affect only Eurasian skylarks. Other bird species also have to struggle with an ever decreasing loss of breeding habitats.
The Tempelhofer Feld, thus, became in one way or another an alternative habitat for the Eurasian skylarks.
The Tempelhofer Feld on Grün Berlin
Protected zones for Eurasian skylarks
„Monitoring der Avifauna des Tempelhofer Feldes in Berlin im Jahr 2018 und Vergleich mit den Brutvogelerfassungen 2005 und 2010 bis 2017“ by Rainer Altenkamp (only in German)
„Monitoring der Avifauna des Tempelhofer Feldes in Berlin im Jahr 2016 und Vergleich mit den Brutvogelerfassungen 2005 und 2010 bis 2015“ by Rainer Altenkamp (only in German)
Online brochure by the NABU about Eurasian skylarks (only in German)
Bird of the year on the website of the NABU (only in German)
Red List of Berlin (only in German)
Have you already been on the Tempelhofer Feld and have you observed Eurasian skylarks? Or have you seen these bird at another place? Please let me know in the comments.