Restoring Grassland Bird Habitat

In 2013, we started restoring grassland habitat at Upper Credit Conservation Area. A 7.5 hectare former farm field became overgrown with non-native and invasive plants. It’s being transformed into a thriving grassland with native plants and grasses. It will provide critical habitat for species at-risk such as eastern meadowlark, bobolink and grasshopper sparrow.

The Restoration Process

There are several stages in grassland restoration that take many years. The restoration includes the following steps:

The first step is to inventory the plants, animals and insects living in the field at Upper Credit Conservation Area. Students from the University of Toronto Mississauga helped us conduct monitoring studies and collect data. This information provides a baseline to assess how habitat quality improves over time and what wildlife are using the restored grassland.

We prepared the site by removing trees and shrubs and took steps to control the growth of unwanted plants such as invasive species.

We planted a cover crop of soybeans. Cover crops help prepare the soil by adding nutrients and prevent unwanted plants from growing.

We planted a mix of native flowers and grasses by spreading seed and rolling it into the soil. Some species we planted include:

  • Big bluestem
  • Little bluestem
  • Virginia and Canada wild ryes
  • Indiangrass
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Evening primrose
  • Wild bergamot
  • Showy ticktrefoil
  • And more

We set a controlled burn in April 2021 to protect and enhance the established grassland. Controlled burns are carefully set and managed fires. They help restore, maintain and protect grassland habitat by mimicking natural wildfires that grasslands have evolved to respond to.

The fire removes non-native plants and promotes the continued growth of native grassland species.

Frequently Asked Questions

Reviews answers to frequently asked questions about grassland restoration and controlled burns.

The former farm field at Upper Credit Conservation Area became overgrown with non-native and invasive plants. By transforming it into a thriving grassland with native plants and grasses, it will support the recovery of grassland birds.

Grassland bird species are in decline. Our watershed is home to four grassland birds designated as species at risk, meaning that they are in danger of extinction or of disappearing from Canada. These species include:

  • Henslow’s sparrow
  • Bobolink
  • Eastern meadowlark
  • Common nighthawk

There are many reasons for the population decline but the loss of grasslands in Ontario and lower habitat quality for breeding are primary factors.  Restoring grassland habitat is one way we can support the recovery of grassland birds.

In 2014, we launched the Bird-Friendly Certified Hay program. We encourage hay growers across the watershed to protect at-risk grassland birds by registering some or all of their hay acreage in the program. Learn more about the program.

Controlled burns are carefully set and managed fires to help restore, maintain and protect prairie and grassland habitat. The fire is carefully managed by fire experts to burn low to the ground capturing dried grasses and leaves without harming larger trees.

The goal of our controlled burn is to remove invasive, non-native plants so a healthy native grassland with diverse species can establish and thrive.

Burns are conducted in early spring when non-native plants are starting to grow, but the native species are still dormant.

Ignition will only take place under ideal site and weather conditions to ensure the wind speed and direction are favorable for the operation. The fire crew will mow the perimeter of the burn location down to bare ground to create “fuel breaks” at least one metre wide. These fuel breaks will be pre-wetted before ignition using ATV sprayers with mounted water tanks.

During the burn, the burn boss will ignite and control the pattern of the fire to ensure fire lines are “burning into the black”, meaning the fire is usually burning towards areas already burned so there is no more fuel and the fire self-extinguishes.

The fire is constantly monitored by an experienced fire crew and everyone is in constant radio contact with one another. Water filled backpack suppression units, multiple ATV units outfitted with water tanks and sprayers, as well as a forestry power pump connected to a water source will be on site.

Yes, trails surrounding the burn site will be closed for the set up and duration of the burn. CVC staff will close the parking lot to conservation area on the morning of the burn to allow the fire crew to prepare the site for ignition. Normal access and trail use will resume once the burn is complete and the fire crew has removed their equipment from the site.

Under ideal weather conditions, smoke from the controlled burn will rise without impacting surrounding properties.

Changing weather conditions, however, could lead to smoke temporarily reaching nearby residences. It’s recommended that neighbours close windows and doors as a precaution on the day of the burn. People with sensitivity to smoke, especially young children and older adults, are encouraged to stay indoors at the time of the burn.

CVC has notified all neighbouring property owners, as well as nearby residents in Alton, Town of Caledon staff, mayors, councillors, the Dufferin County-Caledon OPP detachment, and Caledon Fire and Emergency Services.

CVC has hired a burn boss who has been trained by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and has extensive experience in prescribed burning. The burn boss, along with their qualified fire crew, will be responsible for setting, controlling and extinguishing the fire.

Wildlife have adaptive behaviours that help them escape from fire. Mammals, for example, can easily out-run ground fires or retreat to burrows or previously burned areas. Reptiles and amphibians may remain in the soil, retreat beneath logs and damp leaves, enter burrows, or escape to water.

CVC has chosen a window of time when the site will have very low activity in terms of wildlife use. This includes respecting bird breeding windows. Overall, most animals benefit from the new growth that follows a fire and the open type of habitat it maintains. Some animals such as turkeys and birds of prey will move to recently burned areas to look for food.

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