Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) is a medium sized song-bird. It was listed as a threatened species in September 2010 under the ESA in Ontario Regulation 230/08 (Species at Risk in Ontario List) because Bobolink numbers have declined substantially over the past 40 years. The current Bobolink population in Ontario is estimated at 800,000 representing an estimated 65% decline since 1968. As a newly listed species, the Bobolink currently receives species and habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA).
Bobolinks are migratory birds that return to Ontario to nest in late May to mid July, typically returning to the same locations year after year. Historically, Bobolink nested in tallgrass prairie, meadows and other open grasslands. As prairie habitats were lost through land clearing, Bobolinks began utilizing hayfields and pasture lands, with the highest densities occurring in larger, interconnected hayfields and natural grasslands.
In Ontario, threats to the species include habitat loss and fragmentation as well as incidental mortality to eggs, young and adults from activities that coincide with the breeding period.
It is estimated that 10,000 to 30,000 farmers and rural landowners may have Bobolink on their lands. Recognizing that the protection of Bobolink has created uncertainty among farmers and rural landowners, the government is proposing to provide a three year transition period during which the protection provisions of the ESA would not apply to agricultural activities (as defined in existing legislation) with respect to Bobolink or their habitat.
The successful recovery of Bobolink will require the support and participation of the agricultural community. The proposed three year transition period will allow farmers to continue their current agricultural practices while a longer term approach to Bobolink recovery is developed. During this period, a recovery strategy will be prepared as well as a government response to the recovery strategy in accordance with requirements of the ESA.
To support the development of a long term approach to Bobolink recovery the Ministry is also soliciting comments on an advisory group, to be comprised of agricultural and non-agricultural stakeholders, which will:
- Provide advice and recommendations on options for stewardship incentive models
- Recommend short-term applied (on-farm) research pilot projects
- Target outreach and extension services to support landowner activities that enhance the conservation of Bobolink and other grassland species
- Examine ways to recognize outstanding grassland stewardship.
The Ministry will also provide specific advice on avoidance, mitigation and overall benefit related to Bobolink to assist in project review and permitting. Overall benefit permitting approaches for Bobolink will be piloted over the next three years to allow proponents to effectively meet the requirements of the ESA within their project timelines.