Ron Krupp: Giving endangered birds a chance

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Krupp, who is the author of “The Woodchuck Returns to Gardening.” It originally aired on Vermont Public Radio.

This summer, I took a birding excursion at the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge with friends, including Richard Foye, a birding expert from South Newfane.

The Missisquoi refuge in northwestern Vermont near Canada is by far the best nature preserve in Vermont. It was established in 1943 to provide habitat for migratory birds that extend along the Atlantic Flyway between northern breeding grounds and southern wintering areas. The refuge consists of 6,729 acres mostly wetland habitats with more than 200 species of birds.

Thousands of ringnecked ducks feed with thousands of greenwinged teal, black ducks and mallards. Nesting bald eagles, hawks, osprey, and a great blue heron colony numbering more than 300 nests are present in the refuge. Shad Island is the home to the largest heron rookery in Vermont. I’ve canoed up to the island and looked up to the top of the trees to see the herons and their young in their nests. And let me tell you, it was the loudest squawking I’ve ever heard.

Bobolink hatching occurs at the same time when farmers harvest their first cut of hay, leaving newborn bobolinks subject to a 100 percent mortality rate.


Close to the main headquarters are open fields where bobolinks raise their young. Since the 1900s, bobolink populations in the Northeast have been declining with a 75 percent decrease occurring in the past 40 years. Bobolinks make a round trip from South America’s pampas — from Bolivia to Argentina, some 12,000 miles. They arrive in Vermont in mid to late May to breed, with young hatching in mid-June. Hatching occurs at the same time when farmers harvest their first cut of hay, leaving newborn bobolinks subject to a 100 percent mortality rate.

Meadows that were once mowed with horses in mid-summer after the young birds had fledged are now cut early and often by farmers trying to maximize their hay harvest. This makes it difficult for grassland birds like bobolinks, eastern meadowlark, savannah sparrow and upland sandpiper to find suitable habitat.

Farmers are offered a financial incentive to delay mowing during a window of time when their hayfields could produce a healthy crop of grass. In 2014, 10 farm fields came under the program for a total of 285 acres. David Charron, who raises black angus and grows 250 acres of hay in Rutland County, is one of those farmers. He said, “Bobolinks have all but disappeared around here for a time, and I enjoy having them around. If giving up one cutting of 30 acres of hay will help the birds to recover, that’s great.”

I would like to end with a quote from Aldo Leopold: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. I am one who cannot.”

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  • Kathy Nelson

    Mr. Krupp,

    Thank you for an elegant description of the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. I know there are many who appreciate this wonderful place.

    One who does not appreciate it is Travis Belisle, an industrial wind developer in nearby Swanton, who would place giant bird-choppers in the direct path of the Atlantic Flyway. For what purpose? To collect on taxpayer subsidies designed to enrich a few and impoverish others. No other purpose.

    I think it was Thoreau who said,

    “There can be no civilization without
    unspoiled wilderness.”