Innovative Studies of Grassland Bird Migration

Henslow’s Sparrow at Mora CA. 

  The migratory patterns and pathways of grassland birds remain largely unknown.  One of the most important aspects of conserving populations is providing habitat not only for breeding activity but also for migration stopover and wintering.  Though migration can be quite difficult to study – things change daily according to weather fronts, wind direction, and birds’ motivational state – stopover habitat use remains a critical piece of information in the puzzle of grassland bird conservation.              Accordingly, MRBO has established two monitoring sites in grasslands this season, one at Mora and

An Eastern Meadowlark at Hi-Lonesome CA.
one at Hi-Lonesome Conservation Area.  Our Mora site is located in an area that the MDC restored to native warm season grasses, while the Hi-Lonesome site is dominated by native prairie.  While daily captures are relatively low, as is typical in grasslands, many interesting and understudied species are being banded, and high diversity and numbers of migrating birds are being observed daily.  
The MRBO grassland migration sites are staffed by a dedicated crew who must deal with extreme weather conditions and constantly shifting schedules while constantly maintaining standards of bird 
One of the MRBO grassland crew, Cassie Ziegler, extracts at Junco. 
safety.  Their hard work is rewarded by having birds in hand that are seldom documented in migration, let alone captured.  To date, the crew has banded LeConte’s, Henslow’s, Vesper, Field, and Savannah Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Wilson’s Snipe.  By site and sound, they have also recorded other species using the prairie during migration, including Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Harrier, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. 
            This season represents the first attempt by MRBO to document grassland bird migration.  This is an extremely under-studied phenomenon in general, and to our knowledge, there have been very few attempts anywhere, ever to mist-net migrants in a prairie setting.  All information collected by our grassland crew, therefore, is new knowledge that will shed light on the importance of Missouri’s grasslands for birds at all times of year.  
Field Sparrow at Mora CA.

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