Grassland bird research and monitoring

Read the full 2013-2018 Grasslands Report here.

Grassland Bird Monitoring: Project History

In May 2012, MRBO was fortunate to become a part of the National Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching Program. Initially, our involvement was to perform extensive grassland bird surveys on thousands of acres of private land.

In 2013, we expanded this project with support from the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Audubon Society of Missouri, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife. Thousands of acres of private lands surveys were joined with tens of thousands of acres of public lands and many new private prairie restoration sites. We surveyed birds on over 40,000 acres, and amassed a total dataset of more than 8,000 observations of target specie: Henslow’s, Grasshopper, and Field Sparrows, Dickcissel, Upland Sandpiper, Bobolink, Eastern and Western Meadowlark, Greater Prairie Chicken, Northern Bobwhite, Bell’s Vireo, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Our survey data are carefully analyzed to gain a picture of bird density, abundance, and occupancy across Missouri’s remaining prairies.

We have pioneered the use of new technology that allows us to present the effects of management on prairie-obligate birds. In 2014, we will be able to map exact locations of birds within Geographic Information System layers that represent years of management regimes. We can examine how, for example, Henslow’s Sparrows move about the landscape based on timing of prescribed fire, stocking rates of grazing animals, or haying.

In 2016, we continued our surveys and added a nest success study that is paired with a 15-year MDC Resource Science Division study on the effects of patch-burn grazing.

The grassland bird monitoring program has become MRBO’s biggest project. It has allowed us to begin wonderful interactions with private landowners and Conservation Area managers. It has also evolved into a powerful informational tool that can be presented to people from all walks of lifes to encourage prairie conservation. Continually updated maps and data from public grassland surveys can be found here

Of the 30,000,000 acres of native prairie that Missouri once had, we now have about 60,000 acres. The additional acreage of grassland in various states of ecological integrity (such as fescue monoculture or sites restored by re-planting native grasses) is still being determined. We do know that prairie bird populations are a fraction of what they were prior to the 1800’s, and that it is vital to properly manage our remaining grasslands to sustain the maximum biodiversity.

Our thanks go out to he National Audubon Society, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Audubon Society of Missouri, the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and especially to Justin Pepper and Max Alleger for their development of this project.