Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club hosting talk on meadowland birds


Staff Writer

Published: 04-09-2023 11:00 AM

SHELBURNE FALLS — The Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club will welcome ornithologist Mara Silver for a free talk on the natural history and conservation of native birds of our meadows.

The program, which is open to the public, will be held Wednesday, April 12, at 7 p.m. at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center.

“I will open people’s eyes to what is happening with birds in our area,” Silver said of her program. “People don’t know that mowing a field at the wrong time has the same impact as cutting down a tree that a bird is nesting in.”

The presentation is part of the club’s public speaker series, which is sponsored in part by the cultural councils of Buckland, Charlemont-Hawley, Colrain and Shelburne. This is the first year the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club is back hosting programs since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and members hope to attract new faces.

“Mara has a wealth of broad scientific interests with ornithological expertise,” said Julie Petty, a member of the Shelburne Falls Area Women’s Club’s program committee. “Her particular gift as a speaker makes this information relatable and compelling.”

Many species that belong to the group of birds known as aerial insectivores are showing alarming declines in the Northeast, including both cliff swallows and barn swallows. Both species commonly breed in agricultural settings — they use barns and other farm buildings for nesting, forage in open fields, and use mud to help build their nests.

Reasons for population decline include habitat loss, large-scale agricultural practices, competition from house sparrows, and more recently, pesticide use, climate change, and threats on migration and in wintering grounds. In spite of population decline, breeding success of cliff swallows and barn swallows can increase when habitat is improved at nesting sites. These improvements can also benefit other bird species.

Silver has been working on swallow conservation projects for the past 25 years through her nonprofit Swallow Conservation. The primary focus of her work has been on developing management techniques to attract and enhance the breeding success of cliff swallows and barn swallows at nesting sites. She holds a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries conservation from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she researched characteristics of river banks used by nesting bank swallows.

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“You don’t have to be a scientist or own huge tracts of land to do good for bird populations,” Silver continued. “I will be talking about mowing at the right time, not using chemicals if you do not have to, and getting people to be aware of what could be in their yards or on their properties.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or