| Mar 26, 2009

Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - March 26, 2009 Letter from a land ownerBy Steve Blight Today’s column is based on an e-mail exchange I had with reader Paige Cousineau, who was reacting to the column on the conservation of Ontario’s Birds, published February 19. The editors at the Frontenac News read the exchange and suggested that it could make an interesting column. I made a few minor changes to make it suitable for a column, and I hope you enjoy it.

Hello, Lorraine and Steve - I live in North Frontenac, near Ompah, and I was intrigued with what this article said about the Bobolink – which I presume does/has frequented this area since the article appeared in our local paper. Does it? If so, I would like to see and participate in an effort to re-establish it here, as well as other grassland and aerial foraging species.

Google tells me that 25 acres would be a plot of land about 165 feet by 264 feet - which I can visualize and operate with much better than "acre". As it happens, we have a stretch on our property we call "the fairway", which probably exceeds those dimensions, so I am wondering what species would make up "suitable grasslands" to attract and sustain these birds. We mow it in September to prevent forest growth. Would this be harmful to these birds? Hope you can help.

Hi, Paige – Thanks for pursuing this – the world needs more people who are keen to get involved in wildlife conservation. Maybe I can provide some answers for you.

Yes, Bobolinks are (or were) quite common a few decades ago. They are still not rare, but they are declining fairly quickly throughout their North American range. The most common reason cited is early mowing of hayfields on their nesting grounds. In the Land O' Lakes area, another reason is the widespread abandonment of hay fields and rough agricultural lands and the re-growth of forests in their place. While this has been great for many of our forest birds, it has been tough on our grassland birds.

Bobolinks will very happily nest in hayfields, so normal hay mixtures would be fine -- timothy, brome grass, etc. Mowing in September is perfect – the problem is that when hayfields are mown in June, their nests get clobbered. Other than making sure that they have the right type and amount of habitat, I am not sure how else to attract them – like other habitat specialists, this is likely their first and main consideration.

You were on the right track to figure out how big 25 acres is – but 25 acres is actually a fairly large plot of land. One acre is about 43,000 square feet, so 25 acres is about 1.1 million square feet. This translates into a square field that is about 1,050 feet by 1,050 feet, or a rectangular field about 500 feet by 2200 feet. If you have this much space, you have what they need. If your hay field isn't this big, but it's beside a neighbour’s field, the birds don't care if there is a fence running down the middle!

While you are at it, you might want to put up some nesting boxes for Tree Swallows (aerial foragers) or Eastern Bluebirds – they use the same type of boxes. Some people put up boxes in pairs about 10 - 20 feet apart – Tree Swallows and bluebirds fight with each other over single nest boxes, and will fight off any of their own species who try to nest nearby in a second box, but will tolerate a different species in a nearby box. As a result, pairs of boxes will often have a pair of swallows in one box and a pair of bluebirds in the other.

There is an excellent website for instructions on how to build, mount and maintain nesting boxes – a button on the side of this site provides plans. The address is provided below. You might be able to buy good nesting boxes, but make sure they are close as possible to the boxes describes on the website -- otherwise you might just end up with house sparrows, and in my humble opinion, there are quite enough of them around!


Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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