Managing Lands for Bobolinks

Keeping cattle out of hay fields will help a dwindling bird population.

The bobolink, with its yellow helmet and elaborate song, summers across the United States, from New York to Washington State. In Washington, the bird’s westernmost population overlaps with the lands of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. But for several years the bobolinks on these tribal lands had been disappearing.

In 2009 Audubon Washington received an Audubon-Toyota TogetherGreen grant to solve the mystery with the Yakama Nation and Kalispel Tribe of Indians. Christi Norman, Audubon Washington’s program director, has been leading the project. She cites two main causes for the drop: the increasingly warm climate, which allows farmers to cut their hay before the bobolinks have finished nesting, and cattle grazing, which can destroy the birds’ nests.

The Yakama Nation’s new management plan calls for fencing out cattle until bobolink nestlings have fledged, along with continued monitoring by a network of citizen scientists and tribal volunteers. So far, Norman says, the farmers “have been very amenable to adapting their farming for the birds’ needs.” While it’s too early to say for sure, she’s optimistic that the new management plans and practices will bring the birds back.

This article originally ran in the November-December 2013 issue as "Making Hay."

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