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Bobolink

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 www.bobolinkproject.com .

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Bobolinks Fledging and Preparing to Migrate

7-14-14 bobolinks2  234Between their striking black and white plumage and their long, bubbly song, male Bobolinks are hard to miss if they are inhabiting a field. The female’s plumage is more subtle, with lots of browns so that she blends in well when on her ground nest. The Bobolink’s most notable accomplishment is its annual migration between breeding (northern U.S. and southern Canada) and wintering (northern Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia) grounds — a round-trip distance of approximately 12,500 miles. According to Cornell’s Birds of North America Online, one female Bobolink known to be at least nine years old presumably made this trip annually, which would mean that in her lifetime she flew a distance equal to traveling 4.5 times around the earth at the equator.

Grassland birds such as Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, Upland Sandpipers and numerous sparrows, which have been in decline for decades, populate New England’s hay fields, meadows, and pastures. Many of these birds build their nests on the ground, raise young, and forage for insects and grains in summer months. If you own or manage a hayfield that hosts Bobolinks (or any other grassland species), consider delaying mowing until after mid- July to allow these birds the opportunity to fledge their young and get them ready for one of the longest migratory flights of any North American songbird. (Photo: male Bobolink on rock, female on grass.) (Thanks to Jeannie Killam and Terry Ross for photo op.)

Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.