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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Grassland bird responses to land management in the largest remaining tallgrass prairie
Year: 2009
Author(s): Rahmig, C. J., Jensen, W. E., With, K. A.
Source Title: Conservation Biology
Source Type: Journal
pages: 1523-1739
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Extensive habitat loss and changing agricultural practices have caused widespread declines in grassland birds throughout North America. The Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma—the largest remaining tallgrass prairie—is important for grassland bird conservation despite supporting a major cattle industry. In 2004 and 2005, we assessed the community, population, and demographic responses of grassland birds to the predominant management practices (grazing, burning, and haying) of the region, including grasslands restored under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). We targeted 3 species at the core of this avian community: the Dickcissel (Spiza americana), Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), and Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna). Bird diversity was higher in native prairie hayfields and grazed pastures than CRP fields, which were dominated by Dickcissels. Although Dickcissel density was highest in CRP, their nest success was highest and nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Moluthrus ater) lowest in unburned hayfields (in 2004). Conversely, Grasshopper Sparrow density was highest in grazed pastures, but their nest success was lowest in these pastures and highest in burned hayfields, where cowbird parasitism was also lowest (in 2004). Management did not influence density and nest survival of Eastern Meadowlarks, which were uniformly low across the region. Nest success was extremely low (5–12%) for all 3 species in 2005, perhaps because of a record spring drought. Although the CRP has benefited grassland birds in agricultural landscapes, these areas may have lower habitat value in the context of native prairie. Hayfields may provide beneficial habitat for some grassland birds in the Flint Hills because they are mowed later in the breeding season than elsewhere in the Midwest. Widespread grazing and annual burning have homogenized habitat—and thus grassland-bird responses—across the Flint Hills. Diversification of management practices could increase habitat heterogeneity and enhance the conservation potential of the Flint Hills for grassland birds