Rice Farmers Support Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative

October 25, 2011 by  
Filed under News

Beginning this fall, and continuing through to 2014, rice farmers participating in the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) will work with the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) of the US Department of Agriculture on a pilot project aimed at benefiting waterfowl and shorebirds by adapting certain rice production practices. Seventy farmers in Colusa and Glenn County, California, have signed contracts to support the MBHI in a project which is the culmination of many years of research and cooperation between rice farmers and conservationists, represented by Audubon California, PRBO Conservation Science, the NRCS and the California Rice Commission.

Speaking on behalf of the California Rice Commission, Paul Buttner noted that they have worked together in testing practices that appear to make a difference to the birds, while at the same time being acceptable to rice farmers. Under the new agreement, rice farmers will extend the time period that their fields are flooded, either starting earlier or draining the fields later, thereby accommodating the birds’ breeding and migratory needs. Also the depth of the water will be adjusted, specifically at agreed upon times in the season. NRCS Assist State Conservationist, Alan Forkey, explained that generally shorebirds and waterfowl prefer a habitat of between 2 and 6 inches deep, but rice fields are usually flooded deeper than that. This will be adjusted, and instead of draining the fields in January, farmers have agreed to keep them flooded for longer and drop the water levels more gradually.

To accommodate the nesting requirements of the birds, levees between fields will be modified, with sloped levees being flattened to provide a better nesting surface and allow easier access to the water for chicks. Some farmers have also agreed to provide artificial nesting structures. A number of the proposed changes will not only benefit the birds, but will be to the farmers’ benefit as well. For the farmers who have agreed to use portions of their fields as wetlands, incoming water will have the opportunity to warm up a bit before running on to the young rice plants which will be beneficial for them, plus longer periods of flooding the fields will help to degrade the rice plants after harvesting, making it easier to clear the fields.

The cooperation of farmers in implementing the pilot project has been very encouraging, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Partnership will be measuring the results of the MBHI with a view to extending the project to other areas of importance to migratory birds.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

February 9, 2009 by  
Filed under

The Skylark, or as it is scientifically known, Alauda arvensis, is a small greyish-brown passerine bird species with streaks all over its upper body and a pure white belly. They are about 16 to 18 cm long with the male lark having broader wings than that of the female for more efficient hovering. Like other larks, the skylark is not a spectacular looking bird but is rather a dull species with a short, stout crest on their heads, which they can lower or raise, and stout legs. A lot of their time is spent foraging for food on the ground as they eat mainly seeds and insects especially in the breeding season.

When the skylark takes flight it sings a beautiful song, which can be clearly heard by all, although it can be difficult to see him as he flies 50 to 100 m above the ground, staying in one spot. The song lasts for about 2 to 3 minutes but lasts longer as the season changes and it gets later in the year. When they fly away from you, you can see their short broad wings and short tail because of the white tail and edges of the wings.

The Skylark breeds mainly throughout Britain and Europe, in the mountains of North Africa and in certain parts of Asia. The eastern populations are a more migratory type bird, moving south for the winter. Even the western populations will move to the coast and lowlands for the winter. The skylark enjoys open areas like cultivated land, heath land and meadows. The skylark also uses the ground to make a grass nest, which it hides in between the foliage making it difficult to find. The female will then lay between 3 to 6 eggs during June and may have a second and third brood later on in the year. The eggs are an off-white with brownish-purple spots near the large end of the egg.

In the last 30 years the UK skylarks have decreased in numbers to the point of there being only 10% of what was recorded three decades ago. This large decline in the population seems to be connected to changing farming practices more than because of the pesticides used. Before cereals were planted in spring, grown through the summer months and harvested in early autumn but now that has changed, which has made it harder for the skylark to find food.