Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Yet Another Prairie Bird on the Wrong List

If you recall my post “Another one on the wrong list” (http://artusobirds.blogspot.com/2009/12/another-one-on-wrong-list.html) referring to Chestnut-collared Longspur as being added to the COSEWIC list of threatened species, well, history has repeated itself and nobody is surprised. Today COSEWIC recommended adding Bobolink to the list of Threatened Species.

Like the Chestnut-collared Longspur, the Bobolink is a grassland bird that has suffered significant declines as a result of habitat loss, (changes in) agricultural practices, and pesticide use. The Bobolink is an “Icterid”, i.e. in the group that includes the “New World” blackbirds, “New World” orioles, cowbirds, grackles, meadowlarks, oropendolas and caciques. Quite a few North American blackbirds have suffered from “bird control measures” in cropland areas in their wintering range and at large winter roosts. Both Rusty Blackbird (Special Concern) and Bobolink have suffered declines as a result of this practice.

It is worth pointing out that Bobolink is a little different to some of the other Threatened grassland birds of mixed grass and short grass prairies, such as Sprague’s Pipit and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Bobolinks are found in grasslands, alfalfa fields, pastures and wetland edges as far west and eastern British Columbia; however they also utilize taller vegetation such as the Tall Gras Prairie and the prairie/parkland transition zone and their range extends all the way to the east coast of North America in these tall grass habitats. The plight of the tall grasslands of eastern North America is absolutely dire to say the least and the Bobolink has suffered their most severe declines in the east.

A few of my photos of the beautiful Bobolink are added below. I used two photos of a breeding male and one of a bird in non-breeding plumage. In late summer, males and females in non-breeding plumage look extremely similar. In fact, Bobolinks are unusual in undergoing two complete moults per year. Their rich, cheery, bubbly song (from which their English name is derived) and spectacular display flutter flight have punctuated many a grassy field in parts of Manitoba I have visited and have filled many a morning with joy. It saddens me to see such a “common” bird listed but hopefully this will improve our ability to conserve this grassland treasure.

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