Some of you have been asking how you can delay your hay cutting to help ensure successful breeding of grass land birds. Open pastures and hay fields provide important habitat for two grassland bird species: bobolinks (left) and eastern meadowlarks (right) that can be recognized for the male song. Both of these birds are on the province’s endangered species list as Threatened Species and their decline can be linked to habitat loss and habitat disturbance both here and in their winter grounds. Early hay harvesting destroys eggs and nestlings of these endangered species.
Ontario has a Recovery Strategy for the two species and there is an exemption for agriculture until December 31, 2015 to help provide time for the ministry to further engage the public and stakeholders in developing a protection and recovery approach for these two bird species.
Bobolink egg-laying usually begins around the last week of May in Ontario. On average, the female lays 5 eggs and incubates them for 12 days. The young hatch starting around mid-June stay in the nest for another 12 days. Most nestlings have left the next by mid-July. They are poor fliers for the first week or two and usually remain with parents at that time.
Eastern meadowlark egg-laying usually begins around the mid-May in Ontario. On average, the female lays 4 eggs and incubates them for 14 days. The young hatch starting around mid-June stay in the next for another 12 days. Most nestlings have left the nest by mid July.
There are several factors (such as degradation of South American wintering grounds) that are linked to the decline of these two bird species. However, watching for the presence of these birds in your fields and adjusting harvesting practices (where possible) to allow for more successful reproduction of these threatened species can go a long way in helping to build their populations back to more plentiful levels.
While later harvest clearly benefits nesting success of Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark, optimal hay harvest dates for farmers are timed to correspond with modern hay production practices and nutritional values needed for livestock and weather required for drying. Hence, many farmers have limited flexibility to delay cutting.
Best management practices, incentive programs and other programs designed to improve reproductive success in working agricultural landscapes are available. The Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program (SARFIP) does fund grassland projects related to Bobolink.