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Virginia initiative pays farmers to protect grassland birds while nesting

Hugh Kenny
An eastern meadowlark flies over a field.

A program that protects bird populations in the Piedmont, Blue Ridge, and Shenandoah Valley regions is entering its second year. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

The Virginia Grassland Bird Initiative works with landowners and farmers in a 16-county region to preserve bird habitat during several species' nesting periods in the spring and early summer. Their working region stretches from Frederick and Loudoun counties down to Augusta and Albemarle.

Hugh Kenny
Piedmont Environmental Council
October Greenfield is the initiative's co-coordinator.

OCTOBER GREENFIELD: Long-term studies have shown declines in the majority of grassland associated species over the past few decades.

October Greenfield is the program's co-coordinator.

GREENFIELD: Here in Virginia, one of our species of priority conservation is the northern bobwhite quail, which has declined by more than 80%. Meanwhile, our eastern meadowlarks – while they still might seem common as we see them on fence posts, we have lost about 75% of those.

They have funding from the Cornell Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative to offer financial incentives to farmers who delay their first cutting of hay until July 1st, or keep livestock out of a certain pasture from April 15th to July.

GREENFIELD: Many of these grassland bird species nest directly on the ground … so they're really vulnerable to the way that we manage these fields. So by delaying haying and removing cattle out of these fields, it allows many of them to be able to fledge at least one nest successfully.

This year, they have funding to protect 1,000 acres. Applications for these financial incentives are open now through November 15th at vagrasslandbirds.org.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.