The woodlark can now be found over most of England south of the Humber, where there is suitable habitat. There was a serious contraction of their range last century to a few sites in Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey, Breckland and Suffolk. But woodlark are steadily recolonising most of their former areas and numbers are increasing again. More than 50% of the British population is now nesting in forestry plantations.
Woodlark (Lullula arborea)
The traditionally recognised habitat for woodlark has been lowland heath. They prefer areas with mainly short and open vegetation, with the occasional taller tree for a singing post. In the last 25 years, it has become widely recognised that the birds also like forestry plantations, nesting on clear fell sites - where all the trees have been cut down - and in young plantations until the trees are around 7 years old. These new 'heaths' provide good nesting cover, plenty of perches and an abundant food supply.
Woodlark start breeding when they are 1 year old. They have two broods, both usually of 4 eggs, during the breeding season from late February to early August.
Young woodlark become fully independent within 3 weeks of fledging. Some birds remain during the winter, using habitats such as cereal stubbles.
During the breeding season, woodlark feed principally on insects, spiders and larvae that they pick off the lower parts of tall vegetation. In winter, they feed on small seeds.
Like many ground nesting birds, the woodlark's main predators are mammals such as fox and stoat, and opportunist birds such as crows and magpies. These predatory species take some eggs and fledglings, but they do not pose a serious threat to a successful breeding population. The main threat to the species comes from loss of habitat through changes in forestry practice that do not recognise the importance of clear felled and replanted forest.
In flight, a typical woodlark is smaller than a skylark and has noticeably shorter wings and tail. On the ground, the woodlark has a more dumpy, compact appearance. The white marks above the eyes meet on the nape of the neck, and there are black and white marking on the leading edge of the wing. Singing males have a more circular song flight than Skylark. The male has one of the finest bird songs in Britain, a liquid, flute-like descending song.
How we manage our woods
With the help of local enthusiasts, and working with partners such as the RSPB and British Trust for Ornithology, the Forestry Commission is identifying woods where woodlark nest and making sure that design plans allow for a sequence of clear-felling and replanting that continues to provide suitable habitat and food supply. Tunstall, Rendlesham and Thetford Forests in East Anglia have been designated Special Protection Areas for woodlark.