Once again the fields belonging to the McGill Farm that lie just east of the arboretum have been cut for hay at exactly the moment when endangered Bobolinks who were nesting in the field have juveniles too young to fly. To say we are disappointed is to put it mildly.
What are we talking about? First, here are some photographs of the birds and the field under discussion – the first taken in mid and the second and third in late May
Bobolinks are a beautiful prairie and meadow/grassland bird with a melodious song that is under considerable threat from loss of habitat – made all the more severe by the iniquitous practice of farmers of taking a hay crop during the period when juvenile nestlings are at their most vulnerable. Here is a quote from the website of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources that summarise the situation quite well:
Bobolinks often build their small nests on the ground in dense grasses. Both parents usually tend to their young, sometimes with a third Bobolink helping. Bobolink populations have declined considerably over the past half century. … Mowing of hay during the breeding period may inadvertently kill and disturb nesting adults and young birds and destroy eggs and nests. Cutting hay in early to mid July coincides with the time that young birds are in the nest and are not able to fly. In addition, the quality of Bobolink nesting habitat has likely declined over time due to modern hay production practices such as earlier maturing seed mixtures and shorter crop rotation cycles.
Added to this the fact that farmers along their migration routes consider them to be pests of grain crops, they really don’t stand a chance. All the more reason that where they can find suitable habitat to nest in that they be left to raise their young.
In early spring Bird Protection Quebec were approached to see if we would be able to help ameliorate the problem – one option being a compensation to the farm to allow them to purchase hay on the open market rather than cut these fields during July as they have done for years. The people that run the Arboretum (also McGill property) were working on our side to see what could be done. There was talk of the farm growing a fodder crop, possibly sorghum, elsewhere and then all went quiet. The birds were doing well. There were ten or a dozen males on territory with their accompanying females.
Now – here is a photograph of the same field this morning, 3 July. Not a Bobolink to be seen.
I must emphasise here that the culprits here are the McGill Farm – not the Arboretum
Will they come back next year? Who knows.