This project started in 2002 to answer a fairly simple question—how do birds respond to a gradient of grassland management for hayfield and pasture management? Over this time we have found ~3000 Savannah Sparrow and Bobolink nests and banded around 8000 adults and nestlings. In the first year or two we discovered that the management effects are clear, but individual bird’s responses to these effects are complex and fascinating. As a result, the work has evolved into a project that uses field study, tracking technology and genetic techniques to look at diverse ecological and evolutionary questions (see publications here). The applications have stretched in to conservation, working with the Vermont Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA) to create a successful and broadly deployed haying program for intensive dairy farms that balances both bird and farmer needs.
Today, the project, known as the Bobolink Odyssey, is a long-term life-cycle study. We cannot explain it perfectly, but in this study system, nestlings of both species and sexes return to breed at a very high rate on or very near the fields their were born. This behavior allows us to track lineages of birds, a highly unique opportunity for maintain migratory songbirds. Our goal is to follow these lineages for as long as they last, and to know everything we can about them: number of offspring produced, annual survival, dispersal within the landscape, mate selection, timing and location of nesting, and perhaps most fantastic, migration. We continue to track Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows with geolocators and other mind-blowing technologies.