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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Avian Inventory of Tallgrass Prairie
National Preserve, Kansas, 1998-1999


Two centuries ago, tallgrass prairie covered the midcontinent of North America from Mexico to Canada. At that time, prairie ecosystems were maintained by periodic fires, grazing by large mammals, and frequent droughts (Knopf and Sampson 1997). As European settlers moved west, natural fires were suppressed, livestock replaced native grazers, and much of the prairie habitat was converted to agricultural use. It is estimated that only 1 to 4% of presettlement native tallgrass prairie remains today (Heibert 1998). Most of the surviving tallgrass prairie is found within the Flint Hills of Kansas. Loss and fragmentation of prairie habitats have resulted in widespread declines of grassland bird species (Herkert et al. 1993, Knopf 1994). Grassland birds are declining more rapidly and consistently than any other guild of North American birds (Fig. 1; Sauer et al. 1999). Seventy percent of grassland bird species monitored by the National Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) have declined significantly over the past 30 years, and many other grassland bird species have shown negative population trends that are cause for concern (Peterjohn 1994). In addition, the status of grassland birds on many National Park Service (NPS) areas is unknown.

Map showing population trends of grassland-bird guild
Figure 1.   Population trends for the grassland-bird guild within North America, 1966-1996 (Sauer et al. 1999).

Baseline inventories and long-term ecological monitoring programs are needed to monitor grassland bird population trends in NPS areas. In 1997, the NPS identified grassland birds as a high-priority research need within the Midwest Region of the NPS system. This report includes the results of a baseline inventory of birds, including those species associated with grassland habitats, at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (TAPR), Kansas. We describe which bird species utilize TAPR and provide baseline data for comparison with future surveys at the preserve. In addition, we describe the grassland habitats of breeding birds at TAPR.

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