Impact of grazing and conservation opportunities for nesting grassland birds in a community pasture
Keywords:distance sampling, nest monitoring, range management, regenerative agriculture, spot mapping, stocking rate, Vickery index
Multiple bird species-at-risk nest on the ground in hayfields and pastures, making nests susceptible to inadvertent destruction from agricultural activity (e.g., trampling by livestock). To better understand the impact of Domestic Cattle (Bos taurus) grazing, we assessed the distribution and breeding status of nesting grassland birds in 2019 and 2020 at the Grey Dufferin Community Pasture, a ~234 ha pasture in southern Ontario, Canada. We estimated there were 86 male Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) in the community pasture in 2019 and 100 in 2020 before grazing began; observed abundance decreased by 73% in fields after grazing in 2020. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) maintained territories after grazing and fledged young in 67% (n = 21) of territories. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) was common across the community pasture before and after grazing occurred. We detected evidence of nesting more frequently in Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow territories in ungrazed than in grazed fields. Our results support previous research indicating nesting Bobolink often disperse from moderately to heavily grazed fields, whereas Eastern Meadowlark and Savannah Sparrow largely remain and renest. Despite the inadvertent negative impacts of cattle stepping or laying on nests and consuming vegetative cover, the community pasture provides areas for successful nesting, with Eastern Meadowlark faring better than Bobolink. Flexibility in the timing and duration of grazing in rotational grazing systems may enable strategic management in target fields (e.g., maintaining enough vegetation for nesting Bobolink). Information about the distribution and abundance of birds can be used to target particular fields for conservation.
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