Although the bobolink are only beginning to nest at our study sites, the eastern meadowlark, another species we are monitoring this year, are already well into nesting, having arrived in the fields much earlier in the season.
Bobolink and eastern meadowlark are both designated as threatened species in Ontario and Canada due to precipitous population declines in recent decades. These worrying population declines are a result of various factors, including the disappearance of hay fields and pastures, which these species rely on for nesting habitat. Changes in agricultural practices have also played a part in grassland bird population declines.
This field season, we are monitoring grassland birds and discussing conservation strategies with farmers to develop site-specific conservation plans for several farms. Over the course of the season, we'll track the status of the birds and their nests to evaluate the effectiveness of each conservation plan.
Through this collaborative effort with farmers who have voluntarily agreed to take part in our project, we are trying to learn more about the feasibility and impact of various conservation practices, not just on the birds, but also from the perspective of the farmers. Often, conservation requires delaying grazing or hay cutting, which can have negative impacts on farm production, making it challenging for farmers to implement these conservation actions. Our goal is to maximize benefits for bobolink and eastern meadowlark while minimizing negative impacts on the farm. If both of these goals can be achieved, we'll use these projects as case studies to showcase examples of how conservation can be better aligned with farming.