Rotational Grazing for At-Risk Birds


| 12/20/2017 1:45:00 PM


Tags: grassland birds, aerial foragers, species-at-risk, Rebecca Harrold, Ontario, Canada,

Pasture in Southern Ontario 

Across much of North America, natural habitats tend to be isolated patches in a sea of suburban development or intensive agriculture. Where a link exists to unite patches, it tends to be a narrow strip following a riparian corridor. It should come as no surprise to learn that many native birds are experiencing nosedives in their populations. The hardest hit are the birds that nest in grassland habitats and those that forage on the wing. Incidentally, these birds also feel the strongest direct effects from agriculture.

Services Provided by Grassland Birds

Grassland birds are those resident or migrant birds that depend upon upland grassland habitats to raise their young. Meadowlarks and Bobolinks (both of the Blackbird family) and Northern Bobwhite (a small quail) are examples. In North America, our prime agricultural land is what was traditionally grasslands. Today, the wildlife that depends upon grasslands is struggling to survive amid the agricultural matrix that has replaced their former prairie habitat.

Where they are able to survive, amid hayfields and pastures or along hedgerows, they provide a service to their landowners. For example, the favourite food of Meadowlarks is grasshoppers, followed by beetles, grubs, weevils and caterpillars - all pests to farmers. When the “pests” are unavailable, the birds switch to waste grain or the seeds of noxious weeds. Bobolinks also help control pests by eating the invertebrates that cause crop damage. Furthermore, where livestock are present, Bobolinks feast upon the invertebrates that carry disease or aggravate the herd. Bobwhites eat mainly seeds and leaves, cleaning up waste grain and removing weed seeds. They too switch to invertebrates during the breeding season.

Services Provided by Aerial Foraging Birds

Aerial Foragers are insectivorous birds that catch their food on the wing. Swallows, swifts, and nighthawks are examples of aerial foragers. The preferred habitat for this group of birds is open areas with an abundance of flying insects. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, these birds thrived around family farms; a mix of pastures and fields provided a variety of insects and plenty of space to forage. Several swallow species even abandoned their traditional nest sites, choosing instead to raise their broods within farmers’ outbuildings or nest boxes.

The old-fashioned farmer appreciated these aerial forages since they ate only insects and none of his grain. These birds favoured small beetles, mosquitos, and flying ants. Foraging during daylight, swallows would wheel above the busy farmer, nabbing the insects he stirred up while working below. During dawn and dusk, Nighthawks would take over and forage for the larger flying insects.




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