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


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. On 1 July 1991, a literature review on the nesting ecology and nesting habitat management of 11 grassland-nesting bird species in Ohio (Table 1) was initiated. Objectives of the project were to identify and review existing literature on nesting habitat requirements for nongame grassland birds native to Ohio and the ring-necked pheasant (see Table 1 for scientific names) and identify research needs for the development of nesting habitat management guidelines.
Table 1. National and regional estimated population trends (percent change/year) for upland grassland-nesting birds known to breed in Ohio.

BBS population estimatea
Species U.S. Trendb Ohio Trendb
Upland sandpiper, Bartramia longicauda +142** -81**
Bobolink, Dolichonyx oryzivorus -38** -59**
Eastern meadowlark, Sturnella magna -43** -74**
Western meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta -12 -84
Dickcissel, Spiza americana -35** -81*
Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis -28* -30
Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum -69** -84**
Henslow's Sparrow, Ammodramus henslowii -68** -70
Vesper sparrow, Pooecetes gramineus -22 -60**
Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus -59** --
Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus -33* -69**

aU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Breeding Bird Survey for the period 1966-91 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unpubl. data). See Geissler and Sauer (1990) for details on BBS trend estimation methodology.
b*P < or equal to 0.05, **P < or equal to 0.01

Recent declines in grassland avifauna have corresponded with dramatic shifts in agricultural land use (Herkert 1991, Knopf 1994). Modern agricultural practices have resulted in a shift from small grains to rowcrops (corn and soybeans), larger farm and field sizes, decreased landscape and crop diversity, increased use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, and declines in acreage devoted to pasture and hay (Ferris and Cole 1981). In Ohio, <0.5% of the state's original 2,591 km2 of native tallgrass prairie remains (Troutman et al. 1979, Hands et al. 1989). Additionally, the amount of secondary grassland habitat (pastures and hayfields) has recently declined. Since 1950, pasture acreage declined 61/o and hayfield acreage declined 46/o in glaciated Ohio (U.S. Dep. of Commer. 1984, Oh. Agric. Statistics Serv. 1989). This extensive loss of native and secondary grassland habitats and the present intensity of rowcrop agriculture probably ranks grassland habitat the most highly fragmented and endangered ecosystem in the midwestern United States (Herkert 1994c).

In recent years, populations of grassland birds have been declining over much of North America, especially in the midwestern United States (Robbing et al.1986, Knopf 1994). Nine of the 11 grassland-nesting birds discussed in this paper have populations that are significantly declining nationally and/or regionally, based on population estimates from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Breeding Bird Survey (BBS; Table 1). The grasshopper sparrow and Henslow's sparrow have declined by nearly 70/o in the U.S. over the past 25 years (Table 1). In Ohio, the upland sandpiper, western meadowlark, dickcissel, and grasshopper sparrow have declined >80% since 1966 (Table 1).

Special appreciation is extended to the State Library of Ohio, Interlibrary Loan Department, for providing most of the sources cited herein. D. Scott and L. Smith provided helpful revisions of the paper and K. Thompson assisted with typing.

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