Mass Audubon and Partners Take to the Fields with Farmers to “Buy Time” for Bobolinks
Michael P. O'Connor
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.”
Mass Audubon protects 36,500 acres of land throughout Massachusetts, saving birds and other wildlife, and making nature accessible to all. As Massachusetts’ largest nature conservation nonprofit, we welcome more than a half million visitors a year to our wildlife sanctuaries and 20 nature centers. From inspiring hilltop views to breathtaking coastal landscapes, serene woods, and working farms, we believe in protecting our state’s natural treasures for wildlife and for all people—a vision shared in 1896 by our founders, two extraordinary Boston women. Today, Mass Audubon is a nationally recognized environmental education leader, offering thousands of camp, school, and adult programs that get over 225,000 kids and adults outdoors every year. With more than 125,000 members and supporters, we advocate on Beacon Hill and beyond, and conduct conservation research to preserve the natural heritage of our beautiful state for today’s and future generations. We welcome you to explore a nearby sanctuary, find inspiration, and get involved. Learn how at massaudubon.org.