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Changes in land use and intensification of agricultural practices are associated with declines of grassland songbird populations in North America. Hay harvests in the northeastern United States are occurring earlier and more frequently today than 30 years ago, resulting in substantially decreased nesting success of grassland songbirds on early-hayed fields. Few studies have examined whether uncut patches within fields cut during the breeding season can increase the nesting success of grassland songbirds. Twenty-nine artificial nests were placed in 17 uncut patches (mean = 0.337 ha, median = 0.103 ha) on four early-hayed fields in Shelburne, VT. Only one of the 29 artificial nests was depredated. Despite the small sample size, these data suggest that minimal nest cover may allow some reproductive success during hay harvest. Investigating the effect of patch size variation, patch placement, and vegetation structure within uncut patches would prove useful for potential management strategies. While most farmers will be unable to find and cut around grassland songbird nests, larger uncut patches (i.e., ≥1 ha) encompassing areas with high avian nesting densities may be a useful management strategy for grassland birds in intensively managed hayfields of the Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York or similar dairy-dominated agricultural landscapes.


Available here by permission of the publisher, Eagle Hill Institute. Originally published:

Masse, R.J., A.M. Strong, and N.G. Perlut. 2008. Can uncut patches increase the nesting success of grassland songbirds in intensively managed hayfields? Northeastern Naturalist 15(3):445-452. DOI:

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