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Claymont protects grassland birds with Potomac Audubon

By Staff | Jul 17, 2015

Breeding Bird Surveys, a program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have shown a decrease in grassland birds by more than 5% per year since 1966. Some birds such as the Northern Bobwhite, Bobolink, Loggerhead Shrike, Grasshopper, Vesper and Henslow’s Sparrows and Ring-necked Pheasant were once common locally, but are now rarely seen or heard.

The Claymont Society for Continuous Education, located outside of Charles Town, recently designated all of its grasslands as a Grassland Bird Preserve under the Potomac Valley Audubon Society Grassland Birds Initiative. Under the program, 150 acres of grasslands are being managed under delayed or no mowing on a rotational basis, while continuing to provide a crop for harvest. The Claymont grassland is part of the 264 acres surrounding the historic Claymont mansion that the Society placed under conservation easement in 2012. The remaining acreage under easement is wooded, providing excellent habitat for woodland birds.

Much of the reason for the decline in grassland birds is due to a change in land use practices, which results in habitat loss. The Potomac Valley Audubon Society created a Grassland Birds Initiative in 2013 to help halt this decline in the Eastern Panhandle, and to encourage concerned landowners to provide habitat for these impacted birds.

The easiest way to help grassland birds is to practice reduced mowing, rotational mowing, late season mowing, or only mowing every few years to maintain a grassland ecosystem on lands that are not in production. This practice also keeps woody species from encroaching.

There are numerous benefits of delaying or reducing unnecessary mowing, all of which save money. Benefits include reduced labor costs, minimized fuel consumption, reduced wear and tear on equipment and increased fertility of the land. The increase in bird populations resulting from reducing or no mowing also results in fewer insect pests, since these birds feed their young insects exclusively.

For fields in production, mowing after July 15 gives grassland birds a chance to breed and produce one clutch of young. Waiting until later in the summer to harvest provides even greater chance for grassland birds to nest successfully.

To learn more about helping grassland birds, visit www.potomacaudubon.org/GBI or email GrasslandBirdsInitiative@potomacaudubon.org.