Outdoor Journal
Episode #: 
Grassland Birds

Grassland birds and dairy farmers in Vermont have a unique historical relationship. By clearing forests to create pasture for cows, farmers also have provided ideal habitat for birds such as Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows. Fifty or one hundred years ago, the birds thrived. But as dairy farms and their fields have disappeared, so has the habitat. These birds rely on open grasslands to feed. And instead of building nests in trees, they construct them in the grass on the ground. This practice can leave them open to predators as well as farm machinery. When a field is hayed, essentially all the nests fail. They're either destroyed by equipment, or crows and gulls follow the farmer to clean up. Farmers must hay. And they have to get the cut in while the hay still has some value. The ideal solution would be to delay cuts to give the birds time to hatch and raise their young. But that's a tricky timing issue for a farmer who needs quality hay. On the other hand, there are farmers who have wet fields and fields that are not productive. If these fields were properly managed, it would be helpful for the birds. And it might end up being financially beneficial for the farmers. Programs such as the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) could help. It's run by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides landowners with financial help for managing their property using wildlife management strategies. In this segment we join field researchers at the University of Vermont who are part of a study to determine the long-term effects of agricultural management on populations of grassland birds through banding operations.


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