Skip to Main Content

The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Grassland songbirds in a dynamic management landscape: behavioral responses and management strategies
Year: 2006
Author(s): Perlut, N. G., Strong, A. M., Donovan, T. M., Buckley, N. J.
Source Title: Ecological Applications
Source Type: Journal
pages: 2235-2247
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: In recent decades, earlier and more frequent harvests of agricultural grasslands have been implicated as a major cause of population declines in grassland songbirds. From 2002 to 2005, in the Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York, USA, we studied the reproductive success of Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) and Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) on four grassland treatments: (1) early-hayed fields cut before 11 June and again in early- to mid-July; (2) middle-hayed fields cut once between 21 June and 10 July; (3) late-hayed fields cut after 1 August; and (4) rotationally grazed pastures. Both the number of fledglings per female per year and nest success (logistic-exposure method) varied among treatments and between species. Although birds initiated nests earlier on early-hayed fields compared to others, haying caused 99% of active Savannah Sparrow and 100% of active Bobolink nests to fail. Both the initial cutting date and time between cuttings influenced renesting behavior. After haying, Savannah Sparrows generally remained on early-hayed fields and immediately renested (clutch completion 15.6 ± 1.28 days post-haying; all values are reported as mean ± se), while Bobolinks abandoned the fields for at least two weeks (mean clutch completion 33 ± 0.82 days post-haying). While female Savannah Sparrows fledged more offspring per year (1.28 ± 0.16) than female Bobolinks (0.05 ± 0.05), reproductive success on early-hayed fields was low. The number of fledglings per female per year was greater on middle-hayed fields (Savannah Sparrows, 3.47 ± 0.42; Bobolinks, 2.22 ± 0.26), and late-hayed fields (Savannah Sparrows, 3.29 ± 0.30; Bobolinks, 2.79 ± 0.18). Reproductive success was moderate on rotationally grazed pastures, where female Savannah Sparrows and female Bobolinks produced 2.32 ± 0.25 and 1.79 ± 0.33 fledgling per year, respectively. We simultaneously conducted cutting surveys throughout the Champlain Valley and found that 3–8% of hayfield habitat was cut by 1–4 June, 25–40% by 12–16 June, and 32–60% by 28 June–2 July. Thus, the majority of grassland habitat was cut during the breeding season; however, late-hayed fields served as high-quality reserves for late-nesting female Bobolinks that were displaced from previously hayed fields. For fields first cut in May, a 65-day interval between cuts could provide enough time for both species to successfully fledge young.