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Saving Grassland Birds

6-29-17 bobolink 009Grassland birds are disappearing in the Northeast. Among the species affected are Bobolinks, whose numbers have been declining since the 1900’s. One of the primary reasons for this decline is the mowing practices of farmers. Boblinks nest on the ground, in fields. Farmers’ now mow earlier and more frequently than in the past. Their first mowing (which has the highest protein content and the greatest yield) coincides with Bobolinks’ peak nesting time. These birds migrate 6,000 miles from their wintering grounds in South America and arrive in New England to breed in mid-late May, with young hatching in mid-June. Needless to say, many of their nests fail to produce young given the current mowing schedule of many farmers.

An organization called The Bobolink Project was formed to help farmers protect grassland birds. They accept donations which they use to reimburse farmers who sign up to delay their first cut of hay. This allows nesting grassland birds such as Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, Upland Sandpipers, and Grasshopper Sparrows to hopefully remain undisturbed until the successful fledging of their young. To learn more about adjusting mowing schedules to outside the peak breeding season of grassland birds (May 15 – August 15) and The Boblink Project, go to .

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12 responses

  1. Katharine Preston

    Actually – I believe second cut hay is generally higher in protein. The farmers want to get that first cut out of the way as early as possible so that the more nutritious (actively growing) second cut is available.

    June 29, 2017 at 7:43 am

    • From what I’ve read, a lot depends on whether it’s grass or legume hay, and if it is cut when it is mature or at an early stage of growth. Second-cut alfalfa has less protein than first-cut. I’m not positive about grass hay, but the Bobolink Project, which has done a lot of research, states that first-cut hay has the most protein. I took their word for it!

      June 29, 2017 at 8:20 am

  2. Alice Pratt

    So many challenges to overcome in life, with human and animal practices and interactions. It’s great that there are people helping.

    June 29, 2017 at 7:47 am

  3. A number of years ago, after walking by a field where these remarkable birds were singing, we began supporting the Bobolink Project, a simple way to make a difference. If you have any doubts about the value, find an unmowed field and enjoy the serenade. Thanks for promoting this Mary.

    June 29, 2017 at 8:28 am

  4. shielaswett

    Hi again, Mary. My earlier commenrt disappeared somehow! I want you to know that of all the vrieties of birds n our world, if I could choose to become one, I’d pick the BOBOLINK!! They are sp special, posing atop a blad of grass, or…orr.. enjoying life :-))
    Thank you for “my” page today :-)))
    cheers, Shiela

    June 29, 2017 at 9:02 am

  5. What helps bobolinks and meadowlarks thrive?

    Sent from my iPhone


    June 29, 2017 at 9:33 am

    • Allowing the field that they are nesting in not to be cut early! (They are still raising young now.) Mowing destroys their nest and young.

      June 29, 2017 at 1:41 pm

  6. Good to know… we have some of these at the farm and I hope they are thriving. Since we’re so busy, the fields either don’t get mowed at all or very sporadically – usually late summer or fall.

    June 29, 2017 at 11:28 am

  7. I’ll throw in a complicating thought here: farmers are the reason that bobolink are here to begin with. The state was more than 90% forested prior to the arrival of agriculture, with very little natural habitat for grassland birds. The bobolink population decline of the past century is most closely tied to loss of habitat, which is to say, to the fact that so many farms have gone out of business and their former hay land has reverted to woods.

    Fortunately, our remaining small-scale farms typically have a wide variety of habitats and management approaches that can accommodate both May mowing and bobolink habitat, typically on separate fields or in multi-year rotation with grazing. As a meat and veggie farmer myself, I’d encourage local bobolink fans to purchase the fruits of grassland agriculture – milk and meat – because by doing so, you’ll be helping maintain the habitat that bobolink require.

    June 29, 2017 at 1:46 pm

  8. Daniel Russell

    It’s important to note the role of land preservation and grassland management by the Silvio Conte Refuge at Fort River and MassAudubon at Arcadia. Both support successful breeding populations of bobolinks and other grassland birds.

    June 30, 2017 at 7:16 am

  9. Nancy Dean

    What news on killdeer?? I haven’t seen those, or Baltimore orioles, for a number of years.

    Nancy Dean

    Norwich, VT

    June 30, 2017 at 5:32 pm

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