In recent decades, the northern wheatear has declined sharply in the Netherlands. This characteristic breeding bird of dry open dunes is struggling with, among other things, habitat degradation due to nitrogen deposition. Because the species often breeds in old rabbit burrows, the decline in the rabbit population is also a problem.
Sovon is conducting research into the population dynamics of northern wheatears in two remaining core areas in the Dutch dunes: in the Noordduinen near Den Helder and on Texel. The study enters its seventeenth year this year. To get a good picture of the health of the population, all nests are located each year and monitored weekly until the young fledge. The question is whether the population responds to management measures in the areas, such as grazing by sheep and protecting nests from predators.
Since 2013, the population of northern wheatears in the Netherlands has rebounded slightly. In the strongholds, 2019, 2020 and 2021 were particularly good years. Stable summers, with drought and warmth during the breeding seasons probably have a positive effect. But as long as the rabbit population remains low and nitrogen deposition too high, management measures will continue to be necessary to counteract grassing, thus ensuring sufficient suitable habitat for northern wheatears in the long run.