Landowners Share Quandaries and Tips
Most landowners take pride in providing habitat for wildlife, including birds. The needs of nesting grassland birds, however, present some formidable challenges. Populations of grassland specialists such as Bobolink have been declining for decades, and some species depend heavily on hayfields for nesting. But hayfields are cultivated primarily for animal forage, not bird habitat. Can hayfields provide both forage and habitat?
On a cool, cloudy Spring day, we gathered with landowners and agronomists at a Bobolink-filled field in Norwich, Vermont to take on the question. “The Balancing Act: a Workshop for Landowners and Land Managers,” sponsored by VCE and the Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT), brought agronomists together with landowners to share ways to strike a balance between forage production and stewardship for birds.
Although grassland birds sorely need quality nesting habitat, managing hayfields to allow them to fledge young can be complicated given often-competing objectives and constraints faced by landowners. After giving participants a close-up look at Bobolinks, VCE’s Roz Renfrew discussed the habitat needs and importantly, the undisturbed time the birds need to successfully fledge their young.
Then we got into the weeds. Forester AJ Follensbee of VT Dept. Forest Parks and Recreation shared insights about how to prevent and control invasive plants that can thrive in hayfields, especially under delayed mowing, which can give them an advantage over desirable grasses. Sid Bosworth of UVM Extension talked about the compromises in forage nutrition caused by delayed mowing, and grass species and mixes that work best under delayed mowing regimes. Sylvia Harris of the Natural Resources Conservation Service emphasized soil health and encouraged people to explore support opportunities for those wishing to benefit birds. John Roe of UVLT wrapped up with the big picture of how grasslands management fits into the protection of all resources for future generations. Landowners shared their own experiences and asked insightful questions in what amounted to a valuable learning exchange for all.
Participants gained a heightened sense of the opportunities and challenges, tips and tools, and collective interest in supporting grassland birds amidst other land use objectives. A big thanks to participants, speakers, co-sponsor UVLT, VCE grasslands outreach specialist Cathryn Abbott, and to Elizabeth Russell for hosting this successful event. VCE will continue to help landowners find ways to support grassland birds.