Birds of the Prairie

What can we do to slow the decline of grassland bird species?

At a casual distant glance, the Bobolink looks like just another bird out in a grassy field; especially the female. Females are fairly nondescript with their mottled brown coloration. But once you get a good look at the male, you will know it isn’t just another blackbird.

The yellow cap on the head, black and white coloration above, and black below make it easy to distinguish a male Bobolink in its breeding plumage. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2020, Dunbar Slough near Ralston, IA.

A Bobolink weighs about the same as 8 quarters. It is no wonder they can perch vicariously on the upper end of sedge stem.

A male Bobolink reaches down to pick an insect off a leaf blade. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 337 mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/2000. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2020, Dunbar Slough near Ralston, IA.

Unfortunately, loss of habitat has had a serious impact on Bobolinks. The North American Breeding Bird Survey shows a 65% decline in population between 1966 and 2015.

Another one of our grassland species is the Dickcissel. This bird is sometimes referred to as the little meadowlark due to its black bib.

The black bib and yellow chest of the male Dickcissel give it the nickname of “Little Meadowlark”. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/3200. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2020, Dunbar Slough near Ralston, IA.

It can frequently be found perched on roadside fences. Of course, you may have to slow down a bit to realize it isn’t just another little brown bird perched on a wire.

Dickcissels are commonly found perched on fences, forbs, and even shrubby trees. Sony a9 + 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter @ 560 mm, ISO 800, f/8, 1/1250. ©Stanley Buman. All Rights Reserved, 2020, Dunbar Slough near Ralston, IA.

The population of Dickcissels has not declined as much as that of the Bobolink. Partners in Flight estimates a 14% decline since 1970.

What can we do to slow the decline of grassland species? Keep more grassed fields intact. Stop mowing road ditches. Stop turning pastures into cropland. The reason why most pastures are still in pasture is because they have poor soil and are not very profitable when converted to cropland. Unfortunately, some government programs incentivize farmers to plant crops on marginal land. Please do what you can to keep grasslands in grass.

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