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Grazing and Grassland Birds

As grassland bird populations decline across North America, The Nature Conservancy and partners such as the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture are searching for ways to reverse the trend. Among the main culprits are habitat fragmentation and cattle grazing practices that are incompatible with conservation objectives. Prairie Ecologist Marissa Ahlering is heading up a study to identify grazing practices that are compatible with grassland bird conservation in the Sheyenne Delta of North Dakota.

The two-year study compares breeding bird populations in prairie pastures subjected to two kinds of grazing practices: traditional grazing versus conservation-compatible grazing. Reduced grazing pressure should provide a greater variety of grassland bird habitats in the overall landscape, and increase the amount of high quality prairie for breeding birds. Maggi Sliwinski joined our summer crew in May, 2012 and has begun the early morning bird surveys that are at the heart of the project.  

Our focus is on bird species of greatest conservation need in North Dakota, but Maggi records all the birds she sees or hears in each survey plot. Focal species include Willet, Upland Sandpiper, Marbled Godwit, Grasshopper Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Dickcissel, and Bobolink. She is also measuring vegetation, structure, and productivity to help TNC understand bird population responses to the two grazing systems. The work is made possible through the generous support of a North Dakota State Wildlife Grant.

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