Waiting to mow fields can help nesting grassland birds

Photo by John Hall, Vt. Fish & Wildlife Dept.
Landowners can help protect young bobolinks and other grassland birds by waiting until August to mow fields.

Summertime brings many grassland birds such as a bobolinks and meadowlarks to open fields across Vermont, but many of these species are in decline due to the loss of grassland habitat.

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department and Audubon Vermont encourage landowners to give birds a chance to complete their nesting season simply by altering the time of year that they mow large fields.

Bobolinks build nests from May through July among the field grasses and wildflowers. At the same time, other species such as savannah sparrows and vesper sparrows may also be nesting among the grasses. Deer fawns, wild turkey chicks, and other animals take refuge in the grass, and are also at risk by early mowing.

John Buck, biologist for the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, noted that people maintain large fields and meadows for a variety of reasons, from commercial hayfields and grazing pastures, to simple aesthetic beauty. “Mowing is the most common means of maintaining the grasses but if mowed too soon in the summer, many grassland bird species will lose their nest and any hatchlings,” he said.

Buck recommends an Aug. 1 mowing start date for landowners who mow their fields for aesthetic reasons.

For farmers who maintain commercial hayfields and grazing pastures, Audubon Vermont coordinates the Bobolink Project in association with Mass Audubon, the University of Vermont, and several other partners. The project uses donated funds to provide financial assistance to participating farmers who modify their mowing schedules. This year, they are working with 20 farmers to protect over 961 acres of grassland habitat, according to Audubon’s Mark LaBarr.

More information at: bobolinkproject.com and vtfishandwildlife.com.

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