While performing a reptile survey in Snelsmore Common, Matt and I saw many signs warning us about the presence on ground nesting birds on the site, and the dangers of disturbing or damaging their nests. We had been walking around the Common, hunting lizards, and spotting spiders for several hours, and we were starting to suspect that there were no ground nesting birds here at all. However, as we approached the end of our day, and were making a last trip around the north of the Common, a small brown bird squawked under my feet and flew into the air. The bird and it’s nest had been camouflaged so perfectly, neither of us spotted it until we were almost on top of it.
The nests of ground nesting birds are set into the earth, where there is lots of grass and leaves to cover them, in order to hide them from predators. Typical eaters of eggs like these, include Crows, Red Foxes and the American Mink. They can also be trampled by larger grazing animals such as horses and cows, who don’t notice the nests until they are crushed. Due to the decline in heath areas where birds like this can hide their nests, which are cut away to make cattle land and crop fields, it is important to protect these birds wherever possible, and several laws have been passed preventing people from disturbing these nests.
The eggs of ground nesting birds are often brown and speckled, whereas it is much more common for high nesting birds to have bright blue or white eggs. This is because high nesting birds rely on the safety of the tree for protection from predators, while the ground eggs need any extra camouflage they can have. Judging from the number and size of the eggs in the nest, these are likely Chaffinch, which live in the area. Unfortunately, I am not an expert in Oology (the study of birds eggs) and I can not be sure of this. There is a huge variety of such birds in Britain.
After the bird had flown off, and Matt and I had recovered from the shock of it’s unexpected squawk, we made sure nearby horses weren’t going to trample it, and moved away. The parent bird would return as soon as it was sure we had left.