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Nesting Ecology and Nesting Habitat Requirements of Ohio's Grassland-nesting Birds: A Literature Review

GIF -- meadowlark in Ohio


David A. Swanson1
Ohio Department of Natural Resources - Division of Wildlife
8589 Horseshoe Road, Ashley, Ohio 43003

February 1996


A lack of management guidelines for native nongame birds was identified as a significant problem in the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Strategic Plan for 1990-95. A literature review was conducted to identify nesting habitat requirements and research needs for the development of nesting habitat management guidelines for 11 grassland-nesting bird species in Ohio (see Table 1 for common and scientific names). Summaries of habitat types used for breeding (nesting and brood rearing), vegetative characteristics of breeding territories and/or nest sites, area requirements, and effects of no management, mowing, grazing, and prescribed burning on habitat use, nesting density, and/or reproductive success were developed for each species. Nine of the 11 grassland-nesting birds discussed in this paper have populations that are significantly declining nationally and/or regionally. Factors responsible for the decline of grassland bird populations are not entirely understood, but are believed to be a combination of loss and degradation of grassland habitat, reproductive failure because of high rates of nest predation and parasitism, and shifts in agricultural practices, such as earlier and more frequent cutting of hayfields. Each species has a unique set of habitat requirements consisting of area and vegetation composition and structure. Area-sensitive species, those encountered most frequently on grassland tracts greater than or equal to 50 ha, include the upland sandpiper, bobolink, Savannah sparrow, and Henslow's sparrow. Species with a moderate sensitivity to habitat fragmentation are encountered most frequently on tracts >10 ha and include the eastern meadowlark, western meadowlark, and grasshopper sparrow. The dickcissel and vesper sparrow have a low sensitivity to habitat fragmentation and are encountered on grassland tracts of all sizes. The sensitivity of the lark sparrow and ring-necked pheasant to habitat fragmentation has not been studied. The upland sandpiper, vesper sparrow, and lark sparrow prefer short, sparse vegetation and are generally found in highest densities on recently mowed, grazed, and burned areas. The bobolink, dickcissel, and Henslow's sparrow prefer tall, dense vegetation characteristic of unmowed, ungrazed, and unburned areas. Eastern meadowlarks, western meadowlarks, Savannah sparrows, grasshopper sparrows, and ring-necked pheasants prefer vegetation of intermediate height and density and show varied responses to mowing, grazing, and burning. Additional research on the preferred habitat types and vegetation composition and structure of nesting bobolinks, dickcissels, and lark sparrows is needed. Further research on effects of mowing on the western meadowlark, dickcissel, vesper sparrow, and lark sparrow, effects of grazing on the dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow, and ring-necked pheasant, and effects of burning on the upland sandpiper, bobolink, eastern meadowlark, dickcissel, Savannah sparrow, vesper sparrow, lark sparrow, and ring-necked pheasant is needed to develop sound habitat management guidelines. Although much has been written regarding nesting ecology and nesting habitat requirements of grassland-nesting birds, many aspects remain poorly understood and were identified as research needs.
This resource is based on the following source:

Swanson, David A.  1996.  Nesting ecology and nesting habitat requirements of 
     Ohio's grassland-nesting birds: A literature review.  Ohio Department of 
     Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, Ohio Fish and Wildlife Report 13. 
This resource should be cited as:
Swanson, David A.  1996.  Nesting ecology and nesting habitat requirements of 
     Ohio's grassland-nesting birds: A literature review.  Ohio Department of 
     Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, Ohio Fish and Wildlife Report 13.
     Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 16JUL97).

Table of Contents

1Present Address: Waterloo Wildlife Research Station, New Marshfield, OH 45766-9989
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