Bobolink

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Inspiring poetry from the likes of Emily Dickinson, William Cullen Bryant, and James Russell Lowell, the Bobolink has been revered for deeper life lessons. In modern times, the Bobolink serves as an iconic species of North American grasslands, a poster child for the plight and conservation of grassland birds.

Sadly, this seed-eating bird has been viewed as a plague by rice farmers in North and South America – at both ends of its hemispheric range. VCE is leading international work on the conservation of this classic grassland species.

roz-boboAbout half of the entire Bobolink population has been lost since 1970, and declines continue today. Restoring and maintaining quality grassland habitat in North America is central to conserving populations of Bobolinks by ensuring there is adequate breeding habitat.

But what happens to Bobolinks for eight months of the year after they leave their breeding grounds? Avian ecologists and conservationists agree that to conserve a migratory species, we need to know about the entire life of a bird.

“Full life cycle” conservation means that we address the needs of birds throughout the year, acknowledging that what happens during the nonbreeding season can impact the breeding season and vice versa. We must identify the threats to bird populations during the nonbreeding season as well as the breeding season, and determine whether those threats significantly hinder survival and even reproduction.

VCE has been filling in what was once a gaping hole in our understanding of the life of Bobolinks. Sometimes we track down Bobolinks in South America, sometimes we use remote methods to figure out what they’re up to. Over the last decade we discovered enormous roosts on its wintering grounds, documented the species’ reliance on rice in winter, and its exposure to harmful pesticides in rice-growing regions. Using geolocators, we have described its range-wide migration patterns, important migratory stops, and wintering grounds.

Cool Bobolink Facts

Conservation Action

bobo-femaleIn partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and several academic institutions, agencies, and non-profit organizations, VCE is leading the development of a full life cycle Bobolink Conservation Plan that will address the needs of several grassland species. We are forging partnerships with South American organizations to coordinate conservation efforts between breeding, migration, and wintering grounds.

Most grasslands are privately owned, and Bobolink conservation will require that landowners have the incentives and information to manage their lands in a way that will provide the right habitat. To have an immediate impact, we are engaged with local on-the-ground conservation through outreach to private landowners. In Vermont and New Hampshire, and now across New England, we are providing willing landowners with the information they need to provide quality habitat for Bobolinks and other grassland birds.

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