Watershed Farmers Delay the Hay to Protect Grassland Birds

eastern meadowlark bird standing on branch

Every year, grassland birds like bobolink and eastern meadowlark build their nests in hay fields across the Credit River Watershed. These migrating, ground-nesting songbirds are considered at-risk species in Ontario. Their populations have been declining alongside the disappearance of native meadows and grasslands.

Hay fields provide these birds the habitat they need to survive. But the traditional timing of the hay cut aligns with their nesting periods. Typically, farmers cut hay in late May or early June. But young birds haven’t left the nest or learned to fly until mid-July.

In 2014, we launched the Bird-Friendly Certified Hay program to encourage and support farmers in protecting these at-risk birds. The program asks hay growers to delay the hay cut on all or a portion of their hay acreage until after July 15 to ensure young birds have enough time to leave the nest. Growers who register their hay receive bird-friendly hay certification that helps meet a growing demand for more environmentally friendly products, not unlike bird-friendly coffee.

Hay growers have risen to the challenge. Currently, there are over 300 acres registered in the program. Help us reach our goal of 400 acres in 2022 by registering your hay crop by May 1 or sharing this program with a farmer you know.

Here’s what some of our bird-friendly farmers had to say about why they grow bird-friendly hay:

“The flexibility of enrolling only a portion of my farmland allows me to balance my desire to grow higher-protein early-cut hay with my desire to leave a little space for the birds.” Barry Wright, from Erin.

Two people looking at a sample of soil while outside in a field
Barry (left) and CVC’s Mark Eastman (right) doing a soil sample of Barry’s field.

“It doesn’t make much difference to me to delay the cutting of my hay field, but for grassland birds it means they survive.” Geoff Maltby, from Acton.

Man standing in field
Geoff standing in his hay field.

“I like how this program allows me to rent my land to a local tenant farmer, while still providing habitat for threatened species.” Lester Hiraki, from Caledon.

Bobolink bird
Bobolink’s weigh about the same as eight quarters.

Learn more about delaying hay cuts by following us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

To learn more or to register, visit birdfriendlyhay.ca or connect with us online or call Mark Eastman at 416-294-7335.

By CVC’s Calantha Elsby, Specialist, Environmental Outreach

Comments (1)

  1. What a great program… the first I’ve heard of it. I am so proud of the farmers who have already registered, and those who will hopefully register, for the program to save birds. As someone who enjoy early morning walks, I have been somewhat disheartened year after year with hearing less from those who make such lovely music and who bring such colour and vibrancy to the fields. Congrats to the CVC team and all the volunteer farmers for helping to support one of the truly good experiences in life.

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