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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Avian response to warm-season grass use in pasture and hayfield management
Year: 2002
Author(s): Giuliano, W. M., Daves, S. E.
Source Title: Biological Conservation
Source Type: Journal
pages: 1-9
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Populations of most avian species associated with grasslands have declined in North America over the last few decades. These declines may be related, in part, to changes in species composition and management of pastures and hayfields. The incorporation of native, warm-season grasses into pasture and hayfield management has been suggested as a means of providing suitable habitat for birds in agricultural areas. To examine this, we compared avian abundance, richness, and reproductive success in warm- [i.e. switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)] and cool-season grass [i.e. orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)] fields on private farms in southwest Pennsylvania. Point counts, nest monitoring, and vegetation sampling were conducted on nine pairs (warm- and cool-season grass) of fields in 1996, and 12 pairs of fields in 1997. Compared with cool-season grass fields, warm-season grass fields supported a greater abundance and richness of birds, including several declining species [e.g. song sparrows (Melospiza melodia), field sparrows (Spizella pusilla), chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina), grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum), and vesper sparrows (Pooccetes gramineus)]. Additionally, due to lower nest destruction and depredation rates, birds in warm-season grass fields had greater nest success and fledge rates. The positive response of birds to the use of warm-season grasses in pastures and hayfields appears to be due to the increased availability of undisturbed cover. Thus, the establishment of warm-season grasses in pastures and hayfields should be an avian conservation and management priority. Convincing farmers to use warm-season grasses in their fields should not be difficult, as several state and federal programs fund their establishment, and the use of these grasses increases forage production and farm income.