Grassland Birds to Find a Bigger, Better Neighborhood at Canoe Meadows

Release Date:
September 1, 2016

PITTSFIELD, MA—Mass Audubon’s Berkshires Sanctuaries will be working this fall to improve habitat for bobolink and other grassland birds in a field at its Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Pittsfield.

As farms disappear and forests return, the large swaths of hay fields and similar habitats that bobolink require for breeding and raising young continue to shrink in size and number. Bobolink may be the most recognizable—the male’s dark front and underparts are set off by a white back and a striking, straw-colored head patch—but other grassland species in Massachusetts include eastern meadowlark, savannah sparrow, and American kestrel, North America’s smallest falcon.

Many grassland species, including the above, are facing stark declines, according to Mass Audubon’s State of the Birds 2013 and its Breeding Bird Atlas 2. While overall habitat loss is a factor in these declines, research also indicates that even fields of sufficient size, if they are fragmented or interrupted by hedgerows or natural windbreaks, will be passed over by the birds, which may view the linear plantings as cover for predators.

At Canoe Meadows, two fields will be connected to create 60 acres of unbroken grassland this fall by removing a hedgerow of pine trees and invasive species. Volunteers, who have already been removing invasive species, will help seed the newly opened habitat with native grasses and wildflowers.

“We’ve identified Canoe Meadows as one of Mass Audubon’s best opportunities for providing high quality grassland habitat for birds and other wildlife,” said Berkshires Sanctuaries Director Becky Cushing. “Grassland birds are among those in most need of conservation action and they like big fields—the bigger the better.”

The public is invited to an information session about the project and a short guided tour Wednesday, September 28, 5-6:30 p.m., at the Canoe Meadows Pavilion off Williams Street.

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Mass Audubon is the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. Founded in 1896 by two women who fought for the protection of birds, Mass Audubon carries on their legacy by focusing on the greatest challenges facing the environment today: the loss of biodiversity, inequitable access to nature, and climate change. With the help of our 140,000 members and supporters, we protect wildlife, conserve and restore resilient land, advocate for impactful environmental policies, offer nationally recognized education programs for adults and children, and provide endless opportunities to experience the outdoors at our wildlife sanctuaries. Explore, find inspiration, and take action at www.massaudubon.org.