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In the northeastern United States, most natural grasslands have been developed or converted to farmland.

So grassland songbirds like bobolinks and Savannah sparrows nest and care for their chicks in farm fields, in the path of mowers and equipment.

“The cutting or the picking can destroy the habitat that covers them, it can sometimes suck them out of the nests and fling them far away, or actually kill them in the machinery,” says Noah Perlut of the University of New England.

Perlut has been studying how the timing of hay harvests affects grassland songbirds. And he’s partnered with farmers to develop ways to time their mowing to protect birds.

It’s a complex issue — and it’s becoming even more so as the climate warms. Perlut’s research finds that over an 18-year period farmers in the region have started harvesting hay about 10 days earlier. But the birds have not changed when they nest.

“Understanding this over the next 20 or 30 years is going to take a lot of planning and thoughtfulness relative to trying to balance everybody’s needs,” he says.

So climate change is complicating the precarious relationship between birds and farmers.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media