Willson Receives Walker Fellowship

Assistant Professor of Biology Susan Willson was recently awarded a 2011 T. Urling and Mabel Walker Research Fellowship for her research project on "Bird-Friendly Hayfields as Refugia for North Country Grassland Birds." The purpose of the Walker Fellowship program is to encourage faculty from the North Country Region's 11 institutions of higher education to undertake research on critical issues confronting local communities and to make recommendations for possible solutions. Dr. Willson's project examines the impact of modern agricultural practices on the nesting success of native grassland birds, such as bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, and Savannah sparrows, who depend on natural grasslands in Northern New York for habitat.

Willson and her students propose that nest success may remain above replacement rate (and therefore contribute to a net positive population gain) even if farmers hay earlier, in a mid-season hay, when compared with the later date of after August 15. They also suggest that family farms, which utilize less mechanized forms of haying are inherently different from large-scale modern practitioners that utilize much larger and faster machinery; at high speeds, this machinery creates an upwards vacuum effect on a field that sucks up everything in its path. Smaller-scale machinery allows fledged birds to flee in front of approaching machinery. Professor Willson plans to work on this project several successive summers to gather enough data that will help the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies develop and implement policies that will help threatened and endangered grassland birds.