Bird Ecology and Conservation Ontario
Newsletter No. 4, May 2016
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Title image_BECO News
BECO's 2016 field season is underway!

Ontario’s migratory songbirds have returned from another winter south of the Canadian border. As the birds hurry to make the most of the breeding season, we race to collect data on their behaviour, nesting activities, and breeding habitat. Through our efforts, we hope to gain a better understanding of populations that are declining, why they’re declining, and potential conservation solutions.
A male Bobolink in his unmistakable breeding plumage.
Photo: Gerald Morris
Grassland bird detective work in pastures and hay fields

This year, BECO is working on multiple research projects to learn more about grassland birds in agricultural landscapes. Two of these projects involve close observation of nesting activities.
In the Ottawa Valley, BECO is working with the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association to evaluate the impact of a rotational grazing strategy for cattle that is meant to benefit the declining Bobolink population. The provincially Threatened Bobolink frequently nests in pastures. Because nests are built on the ground, they run the risk of being trampled when pastures are grazed during the breeding season.

Bobolink arrived a bit later than expected this year, after making their impressive journey from South America, traveling distances of up to 1,900 km per day. The birds were eagerly awaited by field staff who are just beginning the detective work of mapping territory boundaries and finding the birds’ nests. Finding Bobolink nests can be a challenging task. Female Bobolink are stealthy around nests and males often mate with more than one female, resulting in multiple nests in each territory.
For the two-year rotational grazing project, nests will be monitored and other data collected to assess the benefit to Bobolink of establishing small un-grazed refuges within rotationally grazed pastures.
Collecting vegetation data in pastures
Jocelyn Fortier, Grassland Bird Field Crew Leader, carefully collects data on vegetation before cattle begin grazing pastures.
Photo: Andrew Campomizzi
In Simcoe County, we’re conducting another grassland bird project, focused on Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark. These two species frequently nest in the same fields. The Eastern Meadowlark population is also declining steadily and the species is listed as Threatened in Ontario.

In this project, the first step is finding nests of these two species in hay fields, where both commonly nest. Then, we’ll be catching some of the adults to attach small backpack radio transmitters. Using these miniature tracking devices, we will try to figure out where the birds go when the hay fields they’re nesting in are cut and the birds are displaced from their breeding areas.

For both of these projects, we’re working closely with the farmers who are creating the habitat for these birds, to learn more about their operations, and the feasibility and challenges of potential conservation actions to help support these species. It’s only by working together that we’ll be able to develop effective conservation strategies for these birds that rely so heavily on agricultural landscapes.
Eastern Meadowlark
An Eastern Meadowlark sings his clear and melodic song, perched at the top of a cedar on the edge of a field.
Photo: Gerald Morris
BECO's research program on birds at risk in agricultural landscapes is supported in part by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
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