Background: Several species of grassland birds are of conservation concern in Ontario because of long-term population declines. Most nesting habitat for these species occurs on private farmland in the province, in hay fields and pastures. These ground-nesting species are substantially impacted by management of hay fields and pastures during the nesting season because nests are frequently crushed or exposed by hay harvest or trampled by livestock.
Project work: We collaborated with 5 farmers to learn about farm operations and advise on stewardship actions for nesting Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Grasshopper Sparrow. We mapped territories of breeding birds and found nests to provide information about bird locations to farmers. Farmers explained their plans for grazing and hay harvest, enabling us to identify opportunities for stewardship actions that fit within farm operations. The goal of stewardship actions was to provide some nesting areas for birds on farms, understanding that necessary hay harvest and grazing would occur elsewhere on farms and impact nests. We also surveyed the abundance and breeding activity of grassland birds at the Grey-Dufferin Community Pasture to learn more about the impacts of grazing on nesting grassland birds.
Conservation implications: On each farm, we developed a strategy with farmers to protect nesting birds (Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow), where possible, from impacts of hay harvest and grazing. Stewardship actions included (1) delaying grazing and hay harvesting until birds finished nesting, (2) adding fencing to exclude grazing livestock from nests, and (3) grazing fields briefly and lightly after breeding territories were established in late May and not again until after birds finished nesting. Our collaboration with farmers reinforced the reality that normal hay harvest and livestock grazing during the nesting season will inadvertently destroy nests. Stewardship actions implemented for this project can serve as examples for other farmers interested in managing some areas to minimize impacts on ground-nesting birds, providing habitat where nests are more likely to successfully fledge young.
Project date: 2019
Funding: Support for this project was provided by the CICan Natural Resources Internship program, The McLean Foundation, Ontario Wildlife Foundation, Echo Foundation, and individual donors.
Cattle were excluded from a section of this pasture while an Eastern Meadowlark nest was active. The orange marker on the left was placed 2 metres from the nest to mark its location.
Photo: Andrew Campomizzi
A male Bobolink perches on a post with a bill full of invertebrates for his recently fledged young. Cattle were delayed entry into this area of pasture until the nest had fledged and young had developed sufficient flight skills to avoid being trampled.
Photo: Gerald Morris