At-risk bobolinks taking to grass at former dump
The city built it and they came.
The former Upper Ottawa Street municipal dump is finding new life as a nesting spot for bobolinks after being seeded with prairie grasses the threatened songbirds need to breed.
Cynthia Graham, manager of the city’s architectural landscape services, said an ecologist hired to monitor the impact of the new vegetation this summer observed several bobolinks, including at least one breeding pair.
“That was pretty exciting for us,” Graham said. “It’s hard to know exactly how many pairs are there because they’re pretty elusive birds, but the fact that we saw a breeding pair was a good sign.
“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of whether you are there at the right time to be able to see it.”
The city has spent about $200,000 on the initiative, part of an agreement with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to compensate for the eventual loss of bobolink habitat to trees at the new Johnson Tew Park and Arboretum in Greensville.
According to the ministry’s website, bobolinks were added to the Species At Risk Act in Ontario List in 2010 because they could become endangered if no action is taken to protect their dwindling habitat.
Males are black with a white back and yellow collar during the summer breeding season but lose that plumage in the fall, when they more resemble females, which are tan with back stripes.
Work began in the fall of 2015 to remove invasive plants like the Manitoba maple, Russian olive and buckthorn from the 16-hectare dump’s top and southern slopes to make way for the native grasses the ground-nesting birds favour.
Graham said the city is required to monitor progress yearly for the next three years and then at regular intervals for the following 15 to ensure the habitat remains suitable.
This includes ensuring invasive plants, and especially trees, don’t once again take root in the 11.35-hectare grassland area.
“Trees can start to grow and establish, and those are considered barriers for bobolinks because raptors, birds of prey on other birds, sit on top of them,” she said.
“Even erosion or anything like that can happen to a site if you just walk away from it.”
The city is trying to help bobolinks.