Mass Audubon and Partners Take to the Fields with Farmers to “Buy Time” for Bobolinks

Release Date:
March 7, 2016
Bobolink copyright Steve Webster
Bobolink © Steve Webster

LINCOLN, MA—Just in time for the spring bird migration, The Bobolink Project is back, refreshed, refocused—and expanded—with its collaborative and economically innovative strategy to restore fading populations of the once-familiar birds of hayfields and meadows. Bobolinks are a member of the blackbird family that looks like the back of its head and neck have been dipped in vanilla ice cream.

The Bobolink Project began as grant-funded research and extension to better understand innovative conservation models. Professors at the University of Connecticut and University of Vermont found that the model was so successful, farmers and contributors wanted The Bobolink Project to continue despite the grant funding ending. All was in jeopardy until Mass Audubon joined forces with Audubon Vermont and Audubon Connecticut and took on administrative and oversight responsibilities.

When bobolinks return in May to New England from their South American wintering grounds, they search for undisturbed, sheltering grasslands that they require to build nests and safely raise their young. Many of these grasslands are active hay farms. With the help of Bobolink Project farmers, who delay their mowing schedules to give young birds time to successfully fledge, returning bobolinks will find more such fields in which to raise their families.

The problem is simple to understand. Since hay is worth most when cut early in the season, farmers who delay their haying operations to protect nesting birds can lose money. To address this issue, The Bobolink Project collects money from conservation donors and disburses these donations to cooperating farmers, thereby allowing farmers to delay their harvests and buying time for bobolinks to successfully complete their nesting cycle. In 2015 approximately $50,000 of conservation donations allowed protection of 549 acres of suitable grassland bird habitat during June – early August.

“We are thrilled to be able to work with our partner organizations, Audubon Connecticut and Audubon Vermont, and benefit from the continued participation of researchers from the University of Connecticut and the University of Vermont,” said project leader and Mass Audubon Bird Conservation Fellow Dr. Jon Atwood. “The bobolink is a bird long associated with New England’s agricultural history and folklore, and we are committed to ensuring the survival of this iconic species.”

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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.