The times for birds have been changing for decades, and it is so noticeable now, even non-birdwatchers are noticing the effects of not having their feathered friends at their bird feeders.
More and more conservation organizations are spending donated funds like there’s no tomorrow, and frankly, those tomorrows for birds are lessening dramatically.
Major newspapers are running spreads in featured sections completely out of the affected areas that are suffering the most, like the Boston Globe’s recent piece on the Bobolink. This once strong breeder of the northeast states travels 6,000 miles to nest in tall New England native grasslands and other northern pastures. It has been losing ground for half a century, and those sights of the mostly black virtuoso with white piping and straw colored nape are lessening dramatically. Soon, that strong aviator with the cheerful bubbly warble would be gone without serious intervention.
The tallgrass fields are now being cut less often in order to provide the important habitat for breeding bird purposes. The small stipend paid to these farmers makes them all want to get on the bandwagon, but not for the same reason that we think.
It is for the love of an iconic symbol that so many people grew up with in the farmlands that area residents refuse to allow to disappear without a fight.
However, farming tends to disappear from many areas that are pure, and the small farmer is unable to turn a meager profit just to raise a family, like those large agricultural spreads that go on for miles. They can make things happen with Roundup-coated seeds that quickly kill defenseless birds trying to raise a family in the short period of time that they have.
A short growing season forces farmers to cut the hay crop up to three times in a season, so the grass is not mature enough for the Bobolink.
Farmers and landowners bid for the $50 per acre fee to become part of the program until the donations run out. This means that for fields that are not cut during breeding season develop a strong root system, intense grazing means more organic fertilizer, and the soil is enriched for better future crops.
Good things happen with research for birds, farmers help as always, and perhaps the Bobolink will continue to prosper in farmland that was meant for northeastern forests.
To many farmers, saving a species is more important that making exorbitant amounts of cash. Small donations for a good research cause such as this makes some people sleep better coupled with hard work and a good heart. Money can’t buy genuine love and peace.
Will the grassland birds disappear from the Great Plains? Maybe local chapters of the national birding organizations can try the same kind of programs to help the small farmers keep native grassland prairies and more birds in our future.
Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!
Deb Hirt is a wild bird rehabilitator and professional photographer living in Stillwater.