University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Bobolink Project Seeks Contributions to Protect Nesting Habitats on Farms

Photo Credit: Bobolink at Lake Woodruff, Andrea Westmoreland, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Burlington--Songbird populations have been declining in recent years due to threats to their nesting habitat. To help reverse that trend, the Bobolink Project uses community contributions to compensate farmers for adopting haying practices that protect nesting habitats of grassland birds.

One species of special concern is the bobolink, which in the past four decades has experienced a 75 percent decrease in population in the Northeast. Providing a financial incentive for farmers to delay mowing their hayfields until after the bobolink-nesting season ensures greater survival rates for bobolinks and other ground-nesting species including the eastern meadowlark and savannah sparrow.

In 2013 the Bobolink Project, a collaborative effort of University of Vermont (UVM) Extension, UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the University of Connecticut (UConn), raised more than $31,000. The contributions helped protect nesting habitat on 200 acres of hayfields in Addison and Chittenden Counties.

The amount of acreage protected this year will depend on the number of pledges received by April 21. Anyone interested in contributing can learn more about the project and how to pledge at www.bobolinkproject.com.

Thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that covers research and administrative costs, all of the money pledged by Vermonters goes directly to Vermont farms such as the Wagner Ranch, a third generation-owned and operated family farm in Bridport.

Owner Phil Wagner, who grows hay and corn for his beef operation, first heard about the Bobolink Project from a neighbor last year.

"It seemed like a way to make our farm more financially solvent as well as a good thing to do for the songbird population and the environment," he says, "so we participated." Wagner Ranch plans to do so again this upcoming season, along with a number of other farms in western Vermont that are home to critical nesting habitat for bobolinks and other migratory songbirds.

The Bobolink Project began in 2007 in Jamestown, Rhode Island, as a way for residents to work together to protect habitat of the bobolinks that nest in the hayfields. It later was expanded beyond Jamestown into other parts of Rhode Island. Vermont became involved in 2011.

For more information, visit the web site (www.bobolinkproject.com) or contact Stephen Swallow at (860) 486-1917 or stephen.swallow@uconn.edu.