Grassland bird research and monitoring

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 life to encourage prairie conservation. Continually updated maps and data from public grassland surveys can be found at the link below: 

MRBO Bird-friendliness Metrics on Public and Partner Grasslands

Many birds return to North America from Central- and South American wintering ranges to build nests and raise young. Missouri was historically composed of 30,000,000 acres of native prairie. Today we now have about 60,000 acres of prairie. There is additional acreage of grassland, however it is in various states of ecological integrity (such as fescue monoculture or sites restored by re-planting native grasses) and its suitability for wildlife 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.

History of Grassland Research Projects

MRBO has been monitoring grassland birds across the state of Missouri for ten years. Projects have ranged from breeding bird surveys, to Monitoring Avian Production and Survivorship (MAPS) banding projects, and even Bird friendly beef through the Audubon Conservation Ranching Program! Below is a link to the comprehensive report summarizing 2013-2018 data. Look further below for specific project details!

Read the full 2013-2018 Grasslands Report here

Audubon Conservation Ranching Program

In 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.

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

Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS)

MRBO previously operated a few MAPS banding sites on select public prairies across central Missouri from 2013-2015. These sites were in the Cole Camp and Green Ridge grassland areas. Banding stations were operated during migration and breeding season on select sites. More details can be found in the 2015 report here. This project was retired and replaced with the grassland nest monitoring program.

Grassland bird nest success

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. This study is ongoing, and nest success is monitored for the suite of grassland-obligate birds listed in our cumulative report.

Henslow’s Sparrow eggs