Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Natural Beauty - Bobolink

Warren County Wildlife: Bobolinks make 12,000-mile journey to county's grasslands

Warren Reporter By Warren Reporter
on June 18, 2013 at 2:02 PM
By John Parke

It's haying time in Warren County, and in those hay fields are several birds that use the fields as breeding grounds. One such grassland-dependent bird that graces the hay fields of Warren County is the majestic Bobolink.

The males sing out a bubbly “bobo-o-link!” song as they fly over the fields and are easily recognizable because they are the only North American bird that is black underneath and white on back.

Bobolinks are known to be extraordinary migrants, traveling from their wintering homes in south-central South America to the northern half of the United States to breed. That migration can span more than 12,000 miles round trip.

But their trip is not one without peril. The Bobolink is a species that is declining in most of its breeding range. This is mostly because of habitat loss and a changes in agricultural practices and markets that do not lend to safe breeding areas for the birds. Furthermore, in their South American wintering grounds they are considered a “pest” species and are often shot.

While en route to their breeding grounds they stop over in Jamaica where they are called “butterbirds," because they are captured during migration and consumed by locals as food.
The ones that do make it to their breeding grounds here in the U.S. use low-intensity agricultural habitats, such as hay fields and pastures, as well as fallow fields and meadows to nest and raise their young.

The Bobolink is a Threatened Species in New Jersey that needs grasslands to survive. New Jersey’s remaining grasslands are almost entirely embedded within agricultural landscapes. So any possible cooperative efforts in the agricultural community regarding grassland habitat is key in ensuring the Bobolink’s place in our natural heritage.

One option in helping Bobolinks survive is considering to delay mowing fields until after the nesting season is completed (mid-July in New Jersey). However, from an agricultural standpoint, depending on the variety of grass hay a field has been planted with, managing hay fields for livestock nutrition as well as for grassland bird habitat will bring some tradeoffs, but perhaps not as severe as once thought.

Farmers who consider grassland bird habitat in their hay fields can adjust the timing of first cutting, use field rotation, modify mowing patterns and take advantage of specific field characteristics to achieve this conservation goal. Excess hay acres, bedding and mulch hay harvests, and hay intended for mature livestock with good body condition (like beef, sheep, and even horses), can be compatible with grassland bird habitat hay management.

Additionally, hay tonnage yields are usually higher when cutting is delayed until just after the breeding season for grassland birds; however, later harvested grass hay loses digestibility (due to higher fiber concentration) and nutritive value (due to lower protein). But on the other hand, in times of rainy unpredictable seasonal weather (like what we are experiencing this year in Warren County), the drying time for hay harvested after the grassland bird breeding season will likely be shorter due to more favorable weather conditions; thus it will retain any available dry matter and carbohydrates. Developing better grassland bird habitat on the farm begins by selecting the right fields for habitat conservation use and understanding how to balance habitat and grass hay nutrition.

This story is a weekly feature that runs with the cooperation of New Jersey Audubon. For more information about NJ Audubon or how to perform conservation efforts on your property, contact John Parke of NJ Audubon at john.parke@njaudubon.org or visit njaudubon.org

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  1. It makes my heart sick how much land is gone for birds.

    One of the things I'm amazed by is the multitude of birds where I live. And it's because I'm out in the woods. I keep thinking that this is the way it was not all that long ago... and it's almost lost in some places totally.

    I loved learning about the bobolink.

    1. Thanks, Em - we have lots of birds here in NJ, more than I remember ever seeing in California. If I could time travel, I would love to go back and see what the East Coast looked like before Europeans showed up. I'll be the number of trees would be astonishing - and imagine all of the birds and other critters who lived in them.

  2. The spiritual banks of my consciousness are enriched from hearing the song of the Bobolink. Thanks for sharing about this fascinating creature. Such happy music nobody had to go to school to learn, or buy an instrument to play upon, or do anything but be there to hear.

    Definitely it says something powerful about the insanity of man-made normality that the men running global commerce and society would be so disconnected from the Bobolink as not to care about destroying their habitats. Harold (my dad's name) Stiver who provided this clip is on the other hand obviously a man who cares. If only the collective of billions of global men as an oppressive, destructive, dominant sex class could be like the individual men who try to be different. But because the global sex class is as it is (violent and dangerous to women), I prefer the Bobolink or any bird (crows, even) to the company of a man.

    If more women felt that way and stopped giving attention to the relatively good male individuals among the global sex class of dominator men, then maybe the good individual men (having no female company to occupy their time when we all opt out) could do something about the problem of global male destructiveness as practiced by too many men. And also prevail upon men to preserve Nature. And Bobolinks. We could make it a condition of even speaking to men, like an updated Lysistrata.

    It's been a long day. Maybe what I just wrote doesn't even make sense. But the song of the Bobolink did!

    1. "Such happy music nobody had to go to school to learn, or buy an instrument to play upon, or do anything but be there to hear."

      I love how you phrased that, Sally - you are quite a wordsmith!

      Global male destructiveness is overwhelming - war, corporate rape of our Earth, male rape of women and children, wanton destruction of animals and plants in Nature. It seems like it is never ending. Staying aware of what is being done and keeping focus on what we can do is not easy, but for me personally, it is what is most important. I do what I can one day at a time.

  3. An excellent strategy! Even though I no longer wring my hands about the evils of males as a global sex class devastating pretty much everything in their path, I do still take action when moved to do so. For instance, I participate in a CSA share (community supported agriculture for local farmers, women and men alike), help promote it in my neighborhood, and I extend my wordsmithing to commenting on websites that oppose GMOs and the rest of the creeping Monsanto-esque insanity. Other things move me in time or season, too. Sometimes it has been anti-porn, or assisting women's shelters, or one-on-one creative arts that help free women to embrace the background of their own Be-ing as well as Nature away from man-made foreground. I sense intuitively more than decide where to spend my energy, and it is an evolving process! Keep blogging when you can; you have a real gift for it because your sites are fascinating as well as beautiful.


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