Grassland Bird Conservation
SRLT is very much concerned with conservation of grassland nesting bird habitat. We manage for grassland nesting birds where appropriate areas are found on our holdings. In 2021 we again collaborated with Laura Lecker of Somerset County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Ag Allies program to monitor success and promote successful fledging of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrow on our properties. The main focus was on our preserves although some monitoring was undertaken at easement holdings with grassland. Species most in need of conservation are often those that require sizable acreage in open space. A species like Bobolinks cannot successfully nest in tiny hayfields.
Grassland birds are among the fastest declining groups of birds in the Northeast. Over the last 50 years most grassland bird species have seen major losses across New England. The familiar and once abundant Bobolink has declined by as much as 75%, and more than 95% of Meadowlarks have disappeared from our meadows! Most North American grassland birds are of conservation concern and often listed as threatened or endangered.
We had great success at the Richardson Memorial Preserve in Unity in 2021 due to management changes and the cooperation of Gold Top Dairy and Songbird Farm who lease the fields there. Songbird produces organic grain and their harvest schedule does not conflict the nesting chronology of the grassland species. Producing hay for dairy silage however can negatively impact the birds successful fledging. We monitored fields and Gold Top delayed cutting in fields where Bobolinks were present until after the birds had fledged in early July.
At the Sousa Preserve Bobolinks were found during past nesting seasons and but we did not confirm nesting there in 2020 or 2021. The pastures are being improved there by regular mowing and agricultural activity by For Good Measure Farm, but with less than 25 acres of open fields, the habitat may be suboptimal. Savannah Sparrows do nest there annually.
SRLT has been concerned with recent news regarding PFAS contamination in so many agricultural locations throughout the watershed, including at our Richardson Preserve. At this point, it is unclear how this will affect our grassland and agricultural land management.
NRCS encourages haying after July 15 to ensure that the young birds successfully fledge from their nests. They offer programs that provide financial and technical assistance and support to landowners for carrying out these practices because they are aware that dairy farmers are under great pressure to maximize their hay yields. View the recording of Laura's informational talk presented on Zoom for SRLT on May 12, 2022 here >.
Laura Suomi-Lecker is the Technical Director at Somerset County Soil and
Water Conservation District (NRCS), where she is the manager of the Ag
Allies Grassland Bird Program, now in its third year of working with farmers
and landowners on this issue. She is also the education and outreach
coordinator and long-time volunteer with Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center.