Conservation Lands and Grassland Birds

Sadly, stating that grassland birds are declining has become so commonplace it no longer causes alarm. The reality is that these birds are disappearing from the landscape. Private landowners, who have been on the land for decades, are noticing the disappearance of once common birds, like the Western Meadowlark. This trend is indicative of a very large problem. To solve it, we need to know where the strongholds of grassland birds remain in the northern tallgrass prairies and what types of landscape or local factors are associated with these populations. As a conservation community, we generally only have direct control over publicly owned lands. But effective management requires understanding the context in which public conservation lands function and an ability to influence results beyond our borders.

This summer, the Conservancy began a large-scale survey of grassland birds across western Minnesota and northwest and central Iowa to look for answers. Our main objective is to evaluate the role of conservation lands in supporting grassland bird populations. Early morning bird surveys were conducted by three crews across hundreds of the region’s public and private grasslands. Spring was slow to arrive this year, but the crews braved the elements and began field work the second week of May. They surveyed over 150 sites across the study area over the summer.

This study is a collaboration with federal and state agencies. The US Fish and Wildlife Service generously provided the majority of the funding for the project. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources funded a graduate student to focus specifically on Grasshopper Sparrows in southwest Minnesota. The Cox Family Fund for Science and Research provided key financial support toward the hiring of seasonal field crews. The outcomes of this study will inform land managers of the landscape and local conditions that provide the best support for the greatest abundance of grassland birds in the region.


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