Tuesday, December 4, 2007

conserv. news 12-4

From the most recent Birding Community E-Bulletin:

"WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH WINTER WHEAT? Winter wheat, planted in the fall and harvested the following July, is beginning to draw attention from bird-observers, simply because it's beginning to draw attention from the birds. Increasingly, there is evidence that winter wheat, especially in the American Great Plains and the Canadian Prairie Provinces, may be improving things for certain bird species. Ducks and Ring-necked Pheasants seem to be doing well nesting in winter wheat fields, and Long-billed Curlews, Marbled Godwits, and Willets have also increasingly been found in wheat fields at nesting season. Even certain grassland songbirds seem to be taking to winter wheat cultivation.

When the nesting-season starts for many species, winter wheat has already had a head start growing, and is ready to provide nesting cover for grassland birds early in the season. By the time winter wheat harvest begins, in mid-July in the Dakotas, for example, young birds nesting in the wheat fields are either developed enough to avoid harvest combines, or else have already fledged from the fields. In contrast, alfalfa, which reaches harvest height in May, is typically cut within the first 10 days of June - a dismal predicament for nesting birds and young in areas like the Dakotas. Marbled Godwits have also recently been found nesting in other crops, such as several other varieties of cereal grain crops, flax, and stubble fields of these same crops; however, the winter wheat appears to be the most promising.

U.S. farmers annually plant about 40 million acres in winter wheat. Across Canada, more than 1.2 million acres of winter wheat is grown. Is this great for birds? No, it's a monoculture. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat attractive crop , and one that usually reaches a suitable height at the right time of year to benefit breeding birds. It is a crop that won't be harvested until most nesting birds safely fledged their young. . Winter wheat will never be a substitute for idled grassland, like CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) land, but if cropland goes into a rotation with winter wheat, there may actually be some benefits for certain ground-nesting birds. (It should also be noted that farmers usually don't plant winter wheat in the same field in consecutive years.)

Right now it's unclear whether winter wheat is truly a win-win crop for both agriculture and bird conservation, but indications appear to be positive. Further evaluation is certainly warranted. For a Ducks Unlimited Canada summary of Long-billed Curlews nesting in winter wheat in Canada last spring, see:http://www.ducks.ca/aboutduc/news/archives/2007/070619.html "

If you're interested in receiving this electronic newsletter, contact:

Wayne R. Petersen, Director Massachusetts Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program Mass Audubon 718/259-2178 wpetersen@massaudubon.org OR Paul J. Baicich 410/992-9736 paul.baicich@verizon.net

Past e-bulletins are at: http://www.refugenet.org/birding/birding5.html


In southern Europe, trapping of songbirds for sale as food is illegal, but continues. Read about efforts to stop this practice here, at the site of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter.

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