Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield was established by Congress in 1960 to "administer, protect and develop" the first major battle in the trans-Mississippi region during the Civil War and the site of the first Union General killed in the War.
Several studies completed in the 1970's and 1980's have shown that at the time of the battle (1861) the vegetation, interspersed between five farms, was predominantly oak-savanna. The areas along Wilson's Creek and the larger stream branches supported a denser, more typically forest vegetation with considerable underbrush.
Private Eugene Ware, 1st Iowa Infantry regiment, described the area surrounding Wilson's Creek as it looked on the day of the battle, August 10, 1861. "The hills bore some scattering oaks and an occasional bush, but we could see clearly, because the fires had kept the undergrowth eaten out...the few trees were rather large, scrawling, and straggling, and everything could be seen under them all around." Private Ware gave us a glimpse of an upland savanna, widely spreading oaks and herbaceous prairie grasses underneath.
In the years following the battle, the land surrounding Wilson's Creek changed. Pastures of exotic grasses were planted to replace the over-grazed, tall-grass prairies and much of the land was divided and plowed into crop fields. Areas that were too steep to farm grew up into dense woods. By the time the National Battlefield was created in 1960, intense agricultural use had so drastically altered the landscape, that the savanna had disappeared.
Because it it difficult to understand battle strategies and troop movements through the area with the undergrowth and visibility so changed, returning the landscape to the 1861 scene has been an important priority since the battlefield's inception. In fact, Wilson's Creek's Final Master Plan (1977) called for the battlefield's vegetation to be returned to its 1861 condition. Management efforts are directed towards achieving this goal by restoring the oak-savanna vegetation and keeping historic fields open. Efforts to restore the oak-savanna will also allow the native birds that flourished during pre-settlement times to return and thrive in their natural habitat.
What birds can we expect to find at the battlefield? Generally, birds common to open grassland/shrubland habitats and those common to open woodlands will benefit from oak-savanna restoration. Indigo buntings are common open shrubland bird in south-central Missouri, and are one of the most abundant species at the park. Field sparrows are an open grassland/oak-savanna bird that avoid large expanses of open grassland and are common in the park. Birds which are tolerant of ranges of canopy closure will likely remain within restored savannas at low abundances. These birds include Kentucky Warblers, Northern Parulas, and Red-eyed Vireos which are commonly found at the battlefield now. Species which are intolerant of any reductions in canopy closure, will most likely be excluded from restored oak-savanna communities. These birds include Acadian Flycatchers, Black-and-White Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Wood Thrushes which are all present at the battlefield in small numbers.
As oak-savanna restorations progresses, managers at the battlefield will increase the burn interval to a maintenance level. This should increase the diversity of birds, by allowing a greater height and density of understory layers to develop.
Recent trends in Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) indicate that oak-savanna restoration may benefit several birds species whose populations are declining. Populations of eastern kingbird, eastern wood pewee, field sparrow, lark sparrow, mourning dove, northern bobwhite, orchard oriole prairie warbler and yellow-breasted chat have all shown declining trends form 1966 to 1994. All of these species appear to benefit from oak-savanna restoration in south-central Missouri. In fact, oak savanna restoration may have a key role in the future survival of these species.
There are some birds that may be found at the battlefield that should be of special interest to you. Some birds that were once common in the area, but whose populations are diminishing due largely to European man's settlement of the area and introduction of exotic species include:
Two species that may be seen during certain parts of the year that are on the Federal List of Endangered Species are the Peregrine Falcon, which is classified as endangered, and the Bald Eagle, which is listed as threatened. These two, along with seven others are on the State of Missouri List of Endangered Species and can be found at the Battlefield. They include:
The House Sparrow, Rock Dove, and European Starling are all exotic species, meaning they are not native to the area. They can be held partly responsible for the decline of the above-mentioned birds. They out-compete native birds for food and/or nesting areas.
This checklist identifies the 141 bird species known from Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, Republic, Missouri, arranged by family or subfamily. Of these species, 45 are known to breed.
This checklist reflects the abundance and status of birds only within Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. Information for this checklist is based on observations from members of the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society. Visitors can help substantiate occurrence by reporting sightings of species not included on the checklist and sightings of uncommon species.
Common names of birds conform to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds, 34th supplement (Auk 99:1cc-16cc, 1982).