Bobolinks, turtles need your help

It’s the time of year when both turtles and grassland birds could use a helping hand from their human friends, says John Hall of the Vermont Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.

Vermont’s turtles are on the move, and the Fish and Wildlife is asking for the public’s help in keeping them safe.  Female turtles will soon be looking for places to deposit their eggs, and they sometimes choose inconvenient or dangerous locations.  For example, turtles often lay eggs in gravel parking lots and driveways and along road shoulders, which puts them at risk of being hit by motor vehicles.

“Turtles commonly cross roads as they move to nesting sites and summer foraging habitats,” said Luke Groff, state wildlife biologist.  “Many turtles killed on roads are nesting females, so not only is the female taken from the population but so are her future progeny.  Turtles grow slowly and females may not reproduce until 10 or even 15 years old.  So, for some species, the loss of mature breeding females may have population-level effects.”

Turtle nesting activity peaks between late May and early June, and drivers are urged to keep an eye out for turtles on the road – especially when driving near ponds and wetlands. 

“Turtles are usually slow to move, so they have a tough time safely crossing roads.  If you spot a turtle on the road, please consider helping it across but be sure you’re in a safe spot to pull over and get out of your car.  Human safety comes first,” said Groff.  “If you’re going to move a turtle off the road, always move it in the direction it was traveling.  They know where they’re going.” 

Most turtles can be picked up and carried across the road.  However, snapping turtles have long necks and a powerful bite, so people should be alert and know what the species looks like.  If the turtle is large or if it lacks colorful lines, spots, or other markings, then it may be a snapper.  Instead of picking up snappers, try pushing them across the road with a shovel or pulling them across the road on cardboard or a car floor mat.

Bobolinks, Savannah sparrows and eastern meadowlarks enrich our summers with their songs, but their populations have suffered dramatic, long-term declines due to the loss of their grassland habitat.

“These species have experienced declines across the continent, but on Vermont’s grasslands, especially in larger fields and more open landscapes, there are ways we can help,” said Rosalind Renfrew, a state wildlife biologist.

Landowners can make a difference by altering the times of year they mow fields.  Fish and Wildlife is encouraging landowners to help these beloved species by waiting to mow fields used by grassland birds, giving them a chance to rear their young.

“People maintain open, grassy fields in Vermont for a variety of reasons, from producing hay to providing pasture for grazing, to simply maintaining scenic beauty,” said Renfrew.  “Mowing or brush hogging are the most common ways Vermonters maintain a grass landscape.  For those who can afford it, mowing schedules can be timed to allow grassland birds to successfully raise   chicks.”

Bobolinks, savannah sparrows and eastern meadowlarks build nests right on the ground, among the grasses and wildflowers.  Deer fawns, wild turkey chicks and other animals also take refuge in grass fields.

According to Renfrew, landowners who do not need to mow for animal forage can accommodate nesting birds by cutting late in the summer, preferably after August 1.

People concerned about invasive plants may choose to sometimes mow a section of their field more frequently, to keep invasive plants in check.  “It can mean temporarily sacrificing part of the field,” says Renfrew, “but it can better maintain quality habitat for the birds over the long term.”

Landowners who face a loss of income from delayed mowing can apply for assistance through the Natural Resources Conservation Service or The Bobolink Project.

Categories: Environment

3 replies »

  1. How timely of an article. Only two hours ago prior to reading this, I stopped my vehicle along Route 30 in my town in order to jump out and help cross a beautiful little Box turtle who was crossing that busy road. I have helped them cross for decades now.

    However, if I happen to see some of these VT legislators crossing the road – they’re on their own.

  2. I live on a dirt road in Williamstown for 40 years and there is a swampy area across road from our house and many painted turtles come out of the swamp, walk and lay their eggs on our property and then walk back. I sometimes help them to cross the road afterwards. My youngest daughter when she was 12 helped hatch 13 eggs because they were buried late and she brought them into the house and put them in an old aquarium we had that was in the basement. It had a fluorescent light that she kept on at night and they all hatched. She walked them to the swamp. I don’t believe we’ve seen even one turtle in the road that was hit by a car.

    My father saw a very large turtle on our road many years ago and he thought it would be a great idea to pick it up and bring it to my house for my children to see it. It tried to bite my father’s finger off. It was a large snapper. He said forget it and got back in his car. The turtle that got away…. It’s always been a great story.

  3. I stop for turtles! I live by a swampy area too and unfortunately it seems turtles are target as every year I see at least 2 squished. Three years ago, a big female — and I do mean BIG — so sad.

    Bobolinks and other sweet meadow birds go before the mower — flatlander answer to ‘order’ in a natural landscape that was always perfect to begin with.

    All of this reflects our relationship with nature — God’s creation.