Amidst steep, continental declines in grassland bird populations, here in the forested Northeast we're finding surprising opportunities to enhance grassland bird populations. Grassland birds in Vermont and other northeastern states readily take advantage of open grass-dominated areas such as abandoned or fallow fields, working agricultural lands, and municipal airports.
VCE is partnering with local landowners though our Upper Valley Grasslands Ambassadors program. The project's objectives are to identify strongholds of grassland bird habitat in the Upper Valley of the Connecticut River in Vermont and New Hampshire, and enlist landowners to enhance habitat for the Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and other grassland bird species. Some of our work was recently featured in the PBS film, Plight of the Grassland Birds.
In the project’s first field season (2013), VCE collaborated with New Hampshire Audubon to recruit 27 citizen scientists. With Jamie Sydoriak (a now-graduated Plymouth State University graduate student) in the lead, the team of volunteers surveyed 230 fields in a 1,170 square mile area. The following year, Jamie returned to those identified hotspots to learn from landowners about how they interact with grasslands birds on their properties. In 2015, Cathryn Abbott came on as our grasslands outreach specialist, and expanded our reach to other parts of Vermont and New Hampshire, and northeast into Maine. In 2016 she fostered more connections in the Upper Valley, providing landowners with advice and resources to support their management for birds.
Now we are reaching out to other organizations in the Upper Valley to develop partnerships to establish and maintain long-term landowner options to provide habitat for grassland birds. One key to a sustainable program will be “grassland ambassadors”: landowners who not only manage their own property to benefit the birds, but also might serve as a resource to other landowners. If you are an interested individual or landowner who would like to partner with VCE to provide habitat for grassland birds then contact Cathryn Abbott. In the meantime download our nesting calendar for Bobolinks and our guide for landowners.