Friday, May 13, 2011

Homestead's Grassland Birds

During the 2010 breeding bird survey 61 different species of birds were identified at Homestead National Monument of America.  Similar diversity of birds was seen during the 2010 Birds and Bagels events.  So why does the National Park Service care about what species of bird are using the monument? 
This data when combined with previous year’s data will help to answer many questions.  Without monitoring we would not know if the numbers and diversity of birds were increasing or decreasing.  It would also make it impossible to assess how our management actions are affecting the birds. 

From the 2010 data we know that 10 different species that utilize the monument were identified by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in a publication titled Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan, as being of continental importance.  Another 10 or so species are grassland bird species. 

Homestead is an island of prairie within the sea of agriculture.  For many species, especially those that rely on grasslands, Homestead appears to be a refuge.  While many habitats, even urban ones will provide a home for orioles, robins, mourning doves, etc. because of habitat requirements grassland bird species (those species that use these grassland habitats during the breeding season for courtship, nesting, foraging, rearing young, and roosting or resting) are unable to adapt to urban and cultivated landscapes.  Less than 5% of the prairie that was here when the first Europeans arrived remains in its natural state.  This reduction in acreage has led to severe fragmentation of the grassland ecosystem.  For that reason grassland birds are the group of birds whose numbers are declining the fastest in the United States, almost half (48%) of the grassland bird species are of conservation concern (

The protection and restoration of grasslands is vital to reversing the downward spiral in the numbers and diversity of grassland bird species.  The Friend’s of Homestead are doing their part in helping to reverse the trend.  This year will mark the third growing season since 140 acres of cropland was planted with a mixture of over 100 species of tallgrass prairie plants.  With native species it has been said that the first year they sleep, the second year they creep and the third year they leap.  As the area becomes more dominated by prairie plants it should attract more wildlife including grassland birds.  Hopefully future monitoring of the bird population will confirm this.

So the next time you are at the monument take some time and drive around the section, slowly with your window down, so you can hear the calls of the many birds that have already made the southwest quarter of section 26 of the Blakely Township their home and see the prairie plants leaping!

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