Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario
Newsletter No. 12, July 2018
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A glimpse of the Bobolink world

Our Bobolink field research in hay fields, fallow fields, and restored grasslands began in early May. Within a couple of days, we started detecting males arriving after their long journey from their non-breeding grounds in South America, followed about a week later by the females.
Surveying for Bobolink
BECO research team members scan a hay field for signs of Bobolink in early May. From left to right: Derek Stonley, Andrew Campomizzi, Monica Fromberger.
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
Female Bobolink in spring
A female Bobolink forages in the early spring blossoms on the edge of a hay field.
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
During the initial few weeks of the breeding season, there was a flurry of activity as the male Bobolink established their breeding territories and birds selected their mates. After the courting, chasing, and territorial battles, females began building their nests. While the birds went about their business, we watched and gathered information about their territory boundaries, possible nest locations, and which males were courting more than one female.

Again this year, our research involves tracking Bobolink nest success by monitoring bird behaviour and finding and monitoring Bobolink nests.
Bobolink courtship
A male Bobolink courts a female in one of our restored grassland study sites in the Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
Female Bobolink with nesting material
A female Bobolink with nest building material.
Photo: Gerald Morris
Towards the end of May, the atmosphere in the nesting fields changed. Most females were sitting on eggs and were observed much less frequently. While the females incubated, males continued to sing and defend their territories, some of which contained more than one active nest. As eggs began hatching, both males and females were busy feeding their hungry young. Many young have now fledged and although young are out of the nest, they're still dependent on their parents for food and have limited flight skills. Though we rarely see the young fledglings before they can fly, the extremely agitated alarm calling of the adults is a clear indication of their presence.
Male Bobolink carrying food
A male Bobolink with a bill full of larvae to take to his young.
Photo: Gerald Morris
Bobolink fledgling
This fledgling has just left the nest and cannot fly, relying on the tall and dense vegetation in this hay field for safety and shelter. Within a few days, it will be able to fly short distances, but it will continue to be dependent on its parents for about the next 3 to 4 weeks.
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
Bobolink nesting video series

This short video, the second in a 3-part series produced by Gerald Morris, BECO Field Biologist, provides an overview of Bobolink nesting and what we've been observing in the field in recent weeks. Footage was taken during the 2016 and 2017 nesting seasons at BECO's Bobolink research sites in the Ottawa Valley.
Monitoring the impact of Bobolink stewardship

One approach to conservation on private land is to provide incentives to landowners to implement stewardship practices. In Ontario, there are various programs that provide funding for farmers to implement stewardship 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). With the right combination of stewardship practices and funding, this can be a very effective conservation strategy. However, monitoring the ecological effects of stewardship practices is challenging and few programs contain a monitoring component. As such, there is little information available about the impact of these stewardship activities on the birds.

We are in the midst of our second field season of developing a monitoring scheme to enable learning about the impact of stewardship practices on grassland birds. To do this, we're comparing data from various survey methods requiring different effort. Our results should indicate the most effective types of surveys and what kinds of breeding information about Bobolink can be gathered from various survey types, making assessments of stewardship practices easier in the future. Additionally, we’re collecting data on Bobolink in 5 fields where the hay cut will be delayed until after mid-July, providing some information about this particular stewardship practice.
Male Bobolink perched next to hay
A male Bobolink perches on the edge of his territory, next to last year's late-cut hay. The harvest of this hay field will be delayed again this year, to give the Bobolink a chance to successfully raise their young.
Photo: Zoé Lebrun-Southcott
Read more about our projects →
Support for BECO's 2018 Bobolink research was provided by the Government of Ontario, CICan's Career-Launcher Internship program, Echo Foundation, Mitacs, Trent University, Vortex Canada, and individual donors.

Assistance for this project was provided by the Government of Ontario.

This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the federal Department of the Environment and Climate Change. Ce projet a été réalisé avec l’appui financier du gouvernement du Canada agissant par l’entremise du ministère fédéral de l’Environnement et du Changement climatique.

This work was supported by Mitacs through the Mitacs Accelerate program.
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