Doomed Blackbirds

Updated: Letter to Waterfront Manager (PDF)

As in some years past, the Red-winged Blackbirds have expanded their breeding territory beyond the fennel forests in the northwest quadrant of the park. On April 16, I saw a population of males singing their mating calls from the tops of wild radish, wild mustard, and cheeseweed on the east side of the park, a bit south of the flare station. The vegetation in that area is easily knee high, taller in places. These blackbirds can and do build nests at that level.

Red-winged Blackbird male on wild radish on east side meadow April 16 2019

However, Park management annually mows this sector, and recently mowed a part of the meadow just a few yards south of where the birds are. It’s probably a matter of days before the big mowing machines zap the lush vegetation where the birds are trying to start their families. If any nests are already built there, they’ll be destroyed. I saw this a couple of years ago. The day after the mower passed, desolate blackbirds wandered through the stubble. It reminded me of victims of a bombing raid.

May 17 2017: Blackbird wandering through stubble day after Parks mowed east side meadow

There is one small hope this year. Due to heavy rains clogging some of the normal buried landfill gas ducts, SCS Engineers, who maintain the landfill gas collection and flaring system, have run a 4-inch PVC bypass pipe on the surface from a spot in the thick of the vegetation northward across the east-west path and to the flare station enclosure. The mower would chop up that pipe. That wouldn’t look good. So, quite possibly, mowing will be delayed, or at least limited in area, until the clogged duct is repaired, which might be a while.

Another approach, of course — for next year — would be if Parks management could mow this meadow earlier in the season, when the weeds were only about a foot high. The birds then would not try to nest there.

It’s not clear that the well-being of birds plays any role in Parks’ mowing schedule. In May 2016, Parks mowed down a swath of standing fennel four feet wide in the middle of the blackbird nesting season, exposing and dooming a nest with eggs and fledglings. There are laws against cutting trees in bird nesting season, and these also apply to clearcutting lower vegetation that also serves as bird breeding habitat.

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