Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario
Newsletter No. 16, August 2019
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Title image_BECO News
Grassland bird stewardship on farms
Grasshopper sparrow nest
A grasshopper sparrow nest in a pasture.
Hint: look for the eggs to the right of the clover flower.
Photo: Gerald Morris
Last Sunday, Gerald Morris did the last nest check of BECO's 2019 field season. The nest (pictured above) was empty, but the adults were still active in the area and Gerald caught a glimpse of a young grasshopper sparrow making a short and awkward flight. The nest had successfully fledged.

This year, we monitored three grassland bird species that nest in hay fields and pastures—bobolink, eastern meadowlark, and grasshopper sparrow—all species of conservation concern in Ontario due to declining populations. We worked on five farms in Grey and Dufferin counties, providing information about the birds and nest locations to farmers and proposing stewardship actions to protect nesting birds, where possible, from the impacts of grazing and hay harvesting.

Each farm implemented different stewardship actions. For example, adding temporary fencing to exclude grazing livestock from nest locations, setting aside part of their pasture for the birds and delaying grazing in these areas until birds were finished nesting, or grazing fields briefly and lightly after bobolink breeding territories were established in late May and not again until after the birds finished nesting.
Bobolink and cattle
A male bobolink perches near the edge of his territory. The cattle in the background were delayed entry into the area of pasture where his nest was located until young had fledged and developed sufficient flight skills to avoid being trampled.
Photo: Gerald Morris
We are truly grateful to the landowners who welcomed us onto their farms to study the birds and made many accommodations to protect nesting birds throughout the season.
Read more about this project →
Reflecting on bobolink field research ...

“Having spent the last four field seasons working with bobolink, I’ve come to know them well. I’ve found and monitored well over 100 nests, spent over a thousand hours watching the birds, and gotten to know what many of their more subtle behaviours may signify. But what I’ve come to appreciate most is how much more there is to learn. We've amassed a fairly sizeable dataset of bobolink breeding activity from a number of locations throughout Ontario. But, we can only follow the birds so far and so closely. Questions such as “what happens to the young once they fledge?” or “which predators play the largest part in predating nests?” are only a couple of the things that I think about frequently. It reminds me that scientific study rarely ever reaches some kind of end-point. The best thing about the answers we find is that they lead to more questions. And little by little, as we answer more of these questions, we come to understand our world and the fascinating details of the life that inhabits it.”
–  Gerald Morris, Field Biologist
Images and video from the field
Grasshopper sparrow nest - video
A female grasshopper sparrow returns to her nest in a grazed pasture to incubate 4 eggs.
A chipping sparrow and a field sparrow can be heard singing in the background.
Jill Wettlaufer monitoring bobolink
Jill Wettlaufer, BECO Field Biologist, watches a bobolink pair in a pasture for signs of nesting activity.
Photo: Kaila Ritchie
Eastern meadowlark nest
Eastern meadowlark nestlings beg for food.
Photo: Andrew Campomizzi
Cattle in pasture
Cattle on one of the farms we worked on this year.
Photo: Kaila Ritchie
Funding for BECO's 2019 field research provided by the CICan Natural Resources Internship program, The McLean Foundation, Ontario Wildlife Foundation, Echo Foundation, and our generous donors.
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Copyright © 2019 Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario, All rights reserved.

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