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The Center for Native Grasslands Management




Title: Effects of prescribed burns and bison (Bos bison) grazing on breeding bird abundances in tallgrass prairie
Year: 2006
Author(s): Powell, A. F.
Source Title: Auk
Source Type: Journal
pages: 183-197
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Grassland birds have declined more than any other avian assemblage in North America, with nearly every species showing negative population trends. In the Flint Hills of Kansas, the largest remnant of the tallgrass prairie biome, annual spring burning of rangeland has recently replaced burning every 23 years. I examined effects of different burning and bison (Bos bison) grazing regimes on June abundances of seven bird species using a 23-year data set from the Konza Prairie Biological Station. Fire significantly affected the abundances of six of the seven species. Effects varied among species but, notably, four grass-dependent speciesGrasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), Henslows Sparrow (A. henslowii), Dickcissel (Spiza americana), and Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) and the shrub-dependent Bells Vireo (Vireo bellii)were least abundant or absent at sites in the breeding season immediately following burning. Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) were most abundant at sites in the season following burning, whereas Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) exhibited no significant response. Bison grazing increased abundance of Upland Sandpiper and Grasshopper Sparrow, nearly eliminated Henslows Sparrow, and (in combination with recent fire) lowered the abundance of Dickcissel. Although fire and grazing are natural forces that maintain tallgrass prairie, their action was, until recently, intermittent and patchy, providing grassland birds with a variety of levels of disturbance. If the vast Flint Hills prairie is to serve as a grassland bird stronghold, the region-wide practice of annual burning with intensive grazing must be replaced with alternatives that restore heterogeneity to the landscape.
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