Recently it has been discovered that Black Larks, living on the Eurasian steppes in Kazakhstan, transport dung to their nests to build large 'pavements' . Weird and almost dirty behaviour, but what is the use of it? This spring a team of researchers from the Universities of Wageningen and M√ľnster and the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan (ACBK) will try to answer this question, doing fieldwork in the Korgalzhyn area in Kazakhstan. On this blog we will post on our findings and adventures.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

First week

Nest searching (and finding) has started! This week we all arrived in the village of Korgalzhyn, right in the middle of the Kazakh steppe and the Black Lark’s breeding area. We directly started of finding nests, since the Black Lark breeding season has already started. To the steppe!

The steppe is often described as an endless sea of grass, which implies that it is very monotone. Although endless, the steppe is far from monotone. Currently the wild tulips are flowering and color the steppe with yellow, white and pink flowers. Orange tulips are rare and finding one will bring happiness for the rest of your life! We already found some orange ones, we hope this will give us luck in finding nests.
Black Larks are ground breeders and make deep cup-shaped nests (7 cm deep) in small scrapes in the soil. These nests are often located next to tufts of grass. The female scrapes out the nest, then adds small pieces of grass as lining. Often she adds pieces of dung as a pavement. During this study we want to find out why the birds do that.

Finding the nests is a time consuming business. In an old Lada Niva, we drive across tracks over the steppe. Black Larks often nest close to these tracks, and by driving we hope to flush the females from their nests. When a female flies off, we start looking for the nest on the spot she flew off. Sometimes we indeed flushed her from the nest and the nest is quickly found, but often she was either foraging or doing something else and finding the nest requires a bit more luck. So far we have found 22 nests with eggs and 13 nests which were still in the building phase. These latter nests might be used, but the birds might also decide to build a new nest somewhere else.

Once we find a nest we note down the location, the number of eggs, and data on the surrounding vegetation. Also we count the number of dung pellets and the direction in which the dung pavement is build. Dung might help to protect the nest against cold wind. If dung buffers the nest against the cold, this might have effect on the time a female can be off the eggs to feed. For this reason we want to keep track for how long the female leaves the nest in between incubation. We measure this using temperature loggers placed in the nest. We modified Ibuttons (as you can read in our last blog post) to fit on nails. We push a nail trough the nest into the soil and put the Ibutton on the nail with Velcro. In this way the Ibuttons fit snuggly on the bottom of the nest and the bird is unable to remove them. 
Next to black Larks we keep our eyes open for other birds. Bird migration is still in full swing, with hundreds of Yellow Wagtails (subsp. beema) and large numbers of others birds, including one of the largest fall in recent years (according to the local birders) of Lesser Whitethroats , Siberian Chiffchaffs, Common Redstarts and Wrynecks.

Female Black Lark

Demoiselle Crane

Eurasian Wryneck

How the buttons fit in the nest. We now fit the buttons under the lining

Huge fields of wild Tulips

Huge fields of wild Tulips

Enjoying free time


  1. Tienduizend super leuk om te lezen :) Wat een mooie foto's, de wilde tulpen zijn zo mooi! Ik kijk al uit naar de volgende blogs (en foto's!)!

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