If you’re asked to think about birdwatching, what comes to mind? An image of a hopeful individual on the chase of a rare bird sighting, binoculars in hand? There is an earthy thrill to birdwatching that connects people with nature – an opportunity to see the elusive.

Sadly, since 1970 the population of grassland birds in Canada has plummeted by 57% – about 300 million birds or an equivalent of 2 out of every 3 birds*. Even more shocking is the situation in Ontario with specific birds like Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark that have had their populations decline by at least 77% and 62% respectively between the year 1970 and 2013*.

The decline in grassland bird populations is (not surprisingly) associated with declines in suitable habitats. What may be more surprising is that some of the losses are being offset by pasture and hayfields used in beef production that provide habitats for grassland birds. 

Researchers have hypothesized that “were it not for the creation of agricultural habitats – pastures and hayfields – for livestock, the two species, Bobolinks and Meadowlark, may well have disappeared from large parts of their original range”.1 

In fact, we know that most nestling and breeding of grassland birds in Ontario currently occur on hayfields and pastures.2

These exact pastures and hayfields are also home to thousands of cows and calves across Ontario. Who would have thought this relationship could exist between beef cattle and the conservation of grassland birds?

As beef farmers grow and tend to their herds, the protection and expansion of grassland habitat follows right behind. 


1McCracken et al., (2013: V)

2(Brown & Nocera, 2017)

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