How to Help Threatened Species
Bobolink and eastern meadowlark are songbirds that were once abundant across the Credit River Watershed. Traditionally, they lived in pockets of natural grassland, but when settlers arrived and began clearing forests for pastures and hayfields, the birds’ habitat choices grew. For these species, hay fields mimic natural grasslands, so the early advancement of agriculture in the watershed helped them thrive. Fast forward to today, both bobolink and eastern meadowlark are now listed as threatened under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act. So, what went wrong?
Decline in Habitat
Over time, land use continued to change in the watershed. Corn, oilseed, and other less suitable crops replaced hay in some fields, other fields were abandoned and left to revert to forest, and many were lost entirely to urban sprawl. These changes significantly reduced the habitat available for grassland birds.
Meanwhile, harvest times also shifted earlier in the year. Early harvests are problematic for bobolink and eastern meadowlark because they rear their young in nests on the ground. These vulnerable young birds, unable to fly from the nest yet, can’t escape the machines and tools used to harvest hay. Many are killed tragically during harvest, and those that aren’t often fall victim to predators after the protective shield of tall grass is removed.
Community Members Saving Lives
Today, farmers in the Credit River Watershed are taking action to help protect grassland birds by enrolling some of their hay fields into CVCs Bird-Friendly Certified Hay program. Participating farmers commit to delaying their harvest until all young birds have fled their nests. This means waiting until at least July 15 in the Credit River Watershed.
Last year, 16 farmers provided over 123 hectares of safe nesting habitat across 19 properties in the watershed.
“I can give you a dozen reasons to grow Bird-Friendly Certified Hay, but not one reason not to,” says Geoff Maltby, a farmer in Acton. Geoff and his wife Shanna raise livestock and grow grain crops on their 48-hectare farm. They were some of the first farmers to join CVC’s Bird-Friendly Certified Hay program and now consider their farm “as much a wildlife refuge as it is a working farm.”
Non-farming landowners also play an important role in protecting grassland birds. In 2022, over half of the program’s safe habitat, about 67 hectares, was on land owned by non-agricultural community members. These valuable participants choose to lease their land to farmers who share their conservation values to produce Bird-Friendly Hay.
You can also find these signs at farmers’ markets and other agricultural businesses where vendors and operators buy and sell Bird-Friendly Certified Hay.
If you are a hay grower, hay purchaser or landowner with land to rent, visit birdfriendlyhay.ca.