Disappointed – needless destruction of nesting birds

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Disappointed – needless destruction of nesting birds

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

Distant Bobolink on meadow grasses - 17 May 2014

Distant Bobolink on meadow grasses – 17 May 2014

Male Bobolink - 31 May 2014

Male Bobolink – 31 May 2014

Male Bobolink - 31 May 2014

Male Bobolink – 31 May 2014

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.

The field on 3 July 2014 - hay cut from edge to edge at the most vulnerable period for juvenile Bobolinks. Another generation has been lost.

The field on 3 July 2014 – hay cut from edge to edge at the most vulnerable period for juvenile Bobolinks. Another generation has been lost.


I must emphasise here that the culprits here are the McGill Farmnot the Arboretum

Will they come back next year? Who knows.



By |2014-07-03T12:58:50+00:00July 3rd, 2014|birding, birds|3 Comments


  1. Quetzal 2014-07-16 at 12:19 - Reply

    Wow, here I am trying to find a place to see bobolinks and I read this?!!! How sad. It makes me think too of how we have lost the downtown redwing blackbirds that were nesting at the reservoir. The never ending construction on both sides of the reservoir is the sure culprit.
    So, would you have another place where I might be able to photograph some bobolinks? It’s been a long time since I have seen some of these. I used to see some at the Islands of Boucherville but the main island was transformed to make the park more “user friendly” and so, another lost battle for the bobolinks.
    By the way, just discovered your very interesting blog…

  2. Richard 2014-07-16 at 12:23 - Reply

    Hi Quetzal … afraid you have missed the Bobolinks for this year. Any young have now fledged and are well dispersed so seeing them is a matter of chance. They will be heading back south to Argentina in a while. We have hopes that the McGill field hay cut will be delayed next year. For the few breeding sites in the Montreal area I suggest that you do a search on eBird where you will be able to pull up maps showing where they have been and with luck, where they will be next year.

  3. Quetzal 2014-07-16 at 12:35 - Reply

    Thanks for the info. I’ll make a note of it to check the arboretum next year in May for Bobolinks.

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