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Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott

Project description

Background: A large proportion of land in southern Ontario is used for agriculture and these areas also provide essential habitat for several bird species whose populations are declining. Many questions persist about how these populations are affected by farming practices and what can be done to support bird conservation on farms without negatively affecting Ontario’s agricultural sector.

Various programs provide farmers with funding and incentives to implement best management practices that are intended to support grassland birds on farms (e.g., planting native grasses, installing fences to incorporate delayed grazing, delaying the hay harvest). Most of these programs do not include a monitoring component and there is little information available about the impact of these stewardship activities on the birds.

Project work: We assessed the efficacy of low-intensity surveys (i.e., transect surveys, point counts) to estimate Bobolink abundance and detect evidence of breeding compared to the best information available from intensive spot mapping and nest monitoring. In 2017, we monitored Bobolink in pastures; in 2018, we monitored Bobolink in hay fields, restored grasslands, and fallow fields. We found that two visits to transect surveys during the breeding season and distance sampling analysis provided reasonable estimates of Bobolink abundance compared to spot mapping data. Transect surveys and point counts were useful for determining when Bobolink finish breeding in fields in July. We developed a monitoring scheme for stewardship projects to enable assessments of the impact of best management practices on Bobolink. We also developed a survey protocol to assess when Bobolink finish breeding in fields in July.

Conservation implications: We provided the monitoring scheme developed through this project to conservation and agricultural organizations administering stewardship programs to improve science-based conservation. We also provided organizations with a monitoring protocol to assess when Bobolink are finished breeding in pastures and hay fields to provide a reliable approach of determining when it is safe to graze or cut a field that is set aside for Bobolink conservation.

Project details

Project dates: 2017 – 2019

Funding: Support for this project was provided by the Government of Ontario; Echo Foundation; the CICan Clean Tech Internship program; the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association through the Species at Risk Partnerships on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) program, an Environment and Climate Change Canada initiative; and individual donors.

Bobolink nesting videos

This three-part video series provides information about Bobolink nesting and behaviour during the breeding season. Footage and photographs were taken by Gerald Morris, BECO Field Biologist, in 2016 and 2017.

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