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Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario
Newsletter No. 15, June 2019
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Another field season studying bird life in agricultural grasslands

Spring has been rather slow to take hold in Grey County this year, where our grassland bird field research is focused. But, on a calm and sunny morning earlier this week, the pastures we were surveying were a flutter with activity. We observed several female bobolink building nests as their mates chased them in courtship, sang loudly while performing aerial displays, and tirelessly chased other males and other species out of their territories and off of their favourite perches.

The male and female pictured below were one of many pairs in a cluster of territories that was hopping with bobolink activity.
Male bobolink
Female bobolink holding nesting material
A male bobolink takes off in chase after a male in an adjacent territory while the female works on building a nest.
Photos: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
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.
Eastern meadowlark nest
Eastern meadowlark nest
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
Funding for BECO's 2019 field research provided by Echo Foundation, The McLean Foundation, the Ontario Wildlife Foundation, and our generous donors.
www.beco-birds.org
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