Effects of hunting on the behaviour and spatial distribution of farmland birds: importance of hunting‐free refuges in agricultural areas

Oct 25, 2020

Hunting is one of the human activities that directly affect wildlife and has received increasing attention given its socioeconomic dimensions. Most studies have been conducted on coastal and wetland areas and showed that hunting activity can greatly affect bird behaviour and distribution. Hunting‐free reserves for game species are zones where birds find an area of reduced disturbance. We evaluated the effect of hunting activities on the behaviour and use of hunting‐free areas of lapwings Vanellus vanellus, golden plovers Pluvialis apricaria and little bustards Tetrax tetrax in agricultural areas. We compared the habitat use and behaviour of birds on days before, during and after hunting took place. All three studied species showed strong behavioural responses to hunting activities. Hunting activity increased flight probability and time spent vigilant (higher on hunting days than just before and after a hunting day), to the detriment of resting. We also found distributional (use of hunting‐free reserve) responses to hunting activities, with hunting‐free reserves being used more frequently during hunting days. Thus, reserves can mitigate the disturbance caused by hunting activities, benefiting threatened species in agricultural areas. Increasing the size or number of hunting‐free areas might be an important management and conservation tool to reduce the impacts of hunting activities.

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