Parks Grasslands Mowing Impacting Ground Nesting Birds


The following letters were posted on Seattle Parks and Open Space Advocates  listserve and raise an important issues affecting ground nesting birds in Seattle and other parks.

Subject: Stop the mowing of nesting bird habitat in Discovery Park! 

Dear City and Parks Department officials,

For the second consecutive year, we are writing to demand that Seattle Parks Department cease destroying Savannah Sparrows by mowing over their nests on the Parade Ground meadow at Discovery Park. The area is not a golf course, playground, or off-leash dog run. Park facilities managers must be required to consult naturalists on staff to determine appropriate maintenance and problem-solving measures. Otherwise the purpose and goals of the park are undermined – with potentially devastating consequences for years.
The Savannah Sparrow is a small grassland bird that travels from as far as southern Mexico to nest here.  Of those that survive the trip, large numbers of parent birds and their nestlings will die if the mowing in Discovery Park and other park meadows continues. Indiscriminate mowing will also deprive late breeders of nest sites and habitat for months.
We are longtime volunteers at Discovery Park. In fact, we credit the park’s nature programs and the encouragement of its talented naturalists for having turned us into avid birders. We now give back as best we can by participating in the monthly bird census at Discovery Park and helping to lead some of the migratory bird walks each spring and fall.
Discovery Park is a jewel that needs to be managed with educated and informed care to encourage the wildlife and natural habitat. Please intervene immediately to suspend mowing of Discovery Park meadows and to establish a pro-habitat maintenance policy for all city properties.
Helen Gilbert Henry Noble Seattle, WA 98115

Follow up Letter: Savannah Sparrows under attack again! ‏ 

Hi Tweeters –
Some folks have asked for clarification on the issue of timing of meadow mowing by the Parks Department, the effects of mowing on ground nesters, and how widespread the problem is.
We know for sure it is a problem at Discovery Park and the mowing is happening there right now at the Parade Grounds meadow while Savannah Sparrows are nesting. I am also concerned that since the city doesn’t have a policy, parks that are less closely monitored than Discovery Park, such as Magnusson which has no on-site naturalists, are probably having the same problem with no one noticing. In addition to Savannah Sparrows, ground nesters include juncos, Pacific Wrens, Common Yellowthroats and Song Sparrow. See this article about the topic (ironically reposting from Seattle Parks Dept.) from a few years back.
It’s my understanding that activities such as mowing meadows and large scale disturbances of nesting areas (including brushy areas that may have many invasive plants but are also prime nesting spaces) should be curtailed between mid-March and July.
Below is the letter that Henry Noble and I sent to the city. We also used the Mayor’s message web page to contact him.