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Managing Habitat for Grassland Birds
A Guide for Wisconsin


APPENDIX E.  Definitions of Wisconsin grassland habitats and lists of associated non-grassland bird species.a
(D) = typically dominant
(F) = forages only
(W) = woody vegetation of the appropriate type required for nesting; otherwise forages only
(S) = specialists (limited distribution; occurs more commonly in this habitat than in most others)

Conventionally farmed fields of corn, beans, or potatoes.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Rock dove (F), American robin (F), European starling (F), northern flicker (F), house sparrow (F), chipping sparrow (F) sandhill crane (F).

Conventionally farmed fields of oats, wheat, barley, or rye.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Same species as row crops.

Variable; former annual crop fields not planted in the last one to three seasons; variable litter cover but usually at least some bare soil; vegetation typically dominated by annual weeds: no woody cover; height-density typically under 35 cm.

Associated non-grassland bird species: American robin (F), European starling (F), house sparrow (F).

Conventionally farmed hayfields with >50% cover of alfalfa or other legumes (red clover, bird's-foot trefoil) and <25% cover of grasses or other forbs.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Mostly species that forage in cut hayfields, such as European starling (F), American robin (F), American crow (F), house sparrow (F), rock dove (F), chipping sparrow (F), sandhill crane (F).

Conventionally farmed hayfields with >25% cover of grasses and forbs other than alfalfa and legumes; often dominated by grasses such as smooth brome, Timothy, and orchardgrass.

Associated non-grassland bird species: See alfalfa or legume hay, above.

Fields grazed by dairy or beef cattle; woody cover typically <5%; light to moderate grazing only (see text—typically between 5-20 cm height-density). Vegetation species composition variable, but typically dominated by non-native cool-season grasses (especially Kentucky bluegrass) with some weedy forbs. Bird communities variable, dependent upon vegetation structure, pasture management, and pasture size.

Associated non-grassland bird species: European starling (F), American crow (F), brown thrasher, house sparrow (F), sandhill crane (F), Baltimore oriole (F). In very lightly grazed wet pastures or low areas with tall vegetation or emergents: common snipe, marsh wren, Virginia rail. In heavily grazed pastures: European starling (F), American robin (F), chipping sparrow (F), rock dove (F).

Fields typically dominated by non-native grasses, but with a forb component; always with <5% woody cover; usually deliberate wildlife plantings, retired hayfields or retired pastures.
Short  Typically Kentucky bluegrass, junegrass, redtop, Canada bluegrass, poverty-oats (0-15 cm height-density; often on droughty or sandy soils).
  Associated non-grassland bird species: American robin (F), indigo bunting (F), chipping sparrow (F), northern flicker (F), European starling (F).
Medium  Depending on site conditions, typically smooth brome, timothy, orchardgrass, quackgrass (>15-35 cm height-density).
  Associated non-grassland bird species: American robin (F), American crow (F), European starling (F), northern cardinal (F), gray catbird (W), house sparrow (F).
Tall  Typically reed canary grass, bluejoint grass, tall fescue, but can include other species such as smooth brome. (>35-60 cm height-density).
  Associated non-grassland bird species: Yellow warbler (W), marsh wren.

Established stands dominated by a mix of native warm season grasses but with a substantial native forb component; always <5% woody cover. Not monotypic stands of grass, which are common but tend to be dominated—especially monotypic switchgrass—by fewer bird species than mixed stands.
Medium  (>15-35 cm height-density; often with short-stature grasses such as prairie dropseed. little bluestem and side-oats grama).
  Associated non-grassland bird species: American robin (F), house sparrow (F), chipping sparrow (F), brown thrasher.
Tall  (>35-60 cm height-density: typical species include big bluestem, indiangrass, and switchgrass).
  Associated non-grassland bird species: European starling (F), American woodcock.

Variable; former cropland on well-drained or droughty soils with predominantly non-native grasses and a strong forb component; herbaceous cover consists of <60% grasses; <5% woody cover; height-density usually below 35 cm.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Chipping sparrow (F), American robin (F), indigo bunting (W), cedar waxwing (F), gray catbird (F), brown thrasher, northern cardinal (F), European starling (F).

Exists anywhere idle herbaceous, grass-dominated fields contain scattered shrubs (1-3 m in height); shrub cover 5-30%. Dry oldfield, upland pasture, dry prairie, or dry-mesic prairie with shrubs are examples. A variety of grass height-densities allowable, but usually between 5-50 cm. May grade into wet soils and have bird communities similar to shrub swamps or wet shrubby oldfields.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Gray catbird (D), American robin (D), chipping sparrow (D), cedar waxing (D), eastern towhee, indigo bunting, yellow warbler, brown thrasher, rose-breasted grosbeak, blue-winged warbler, northern cardinal, house wren, blue jay, black-capped chickadee, Baltimore oriole, yellow-breasted chat; many other species possible.

Same as dry oldfields but on mesic or wet sites; height-density typically >35 cm.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Yellow warbler (W), American robin (F), European starling (F), northern flicker (F), American woodcock, common snipe.

Former cropland on wet soils with 5-30% woody cover.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Gray catbird (D), yellow warbler (D), cedar waxwing, American robin, northern flicker (F), European starling (F), indigo bunting, brown thrasher, house wren, chipping sparrow, blue jay, common snipe, sandhill crane, Baltimore oriole, yellow-breasted chat (S); many other species possible.

Relatively undisturbed sites, typically with <10% woody cover, on sandy or droughty soils, dominated by little bluestem, prairie dropseed, side-oats grama, junegrass, and other native dry prairie species but not on steep slopes; height-density <15 cm. Dry prairies on steep hillsides or bluffs (historically called "goat prairies") tend to be shrubby, but even if they are not shrubby, most characteristic nesting grassland bird species of management concern are rare or absent from them (except for field and vesper sparrow and eastern meadowlark).

Associated non-grassland bird species: Chipping sparrow (D), northern cardinal (D), blue jay, brown thrasher, American robin, black-capped chickadee, indigo bunting, northern flicker (F), cedar waxwing, eastern towhee (the latter two species are dominant in hillside prairies), house wren, European starling (F), gray catbird. As with all idle grasslands, woody-dependant bird species not present as nesters if shrubs are absent.

Sites characterized by slightly taller vegetation (grasses often include indiangrass and big bluestem) on more mesic soils than dry or sand prairies. Woody vegetation cover typically <5%.

Associated non-grassland bird species: European starling (F), American robin (F), American crow (F), chipping sparrow (F).

Restorations or remnants of native vegetation on wet-mesic to wet soils. Wet-mesic prairies are dominated by big bluestem and other native prairie grasses and forbs; <10% woody cover; height-density averages around 35 cm. Wet sites (also <10% woody cover) are dominated by species such as bluejoint grass, prairie cordgrass, sedges, and big bluestem and have a lower forb component than wet-mesic prairies; height-density averages 50-60 cm. As with dry, sand, and dry-mesic prairies, most sites are relatively small. Large, open tracts have the most rich grassland bird communities.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Sandhill crane, yellow warbler, American robin, gray catbird, northern flicker (F) indigo bunting (W), American crow (F), cedar waxwing (W). Wet prairies are more likely than wet-mesic prairies to have swamp sparrow, sedge wren, Henslow's sparrow, and Wilson's phalarope (all grassland species) as well as sora rail, common snipe, and marsh wren.

Relatively undisturbed wet meadows, usually south of the tension zone and typically dominated by broad-leaved sedge species, sometimes with bluejoint grass; <5% woody cover.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Marsh wren, sandhill crane, yellow warbler (W), gray catbird (W), house wren (W), common snipe, sora rail, Virginia rail, cedar waxwing (W), other species.

Relatively undisturbed wet meadows, usually north of the tension zone and dominated by "wiregrass sedge" species. Woody cover <5%.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Same species as southern sedge meadows, plus American bittern.

Southern sedge meadows interspersed with open water (average around 25%) and some cover of emergent vegetation.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Marsh wren (D), black tern (D), great blue heron (D, F), sandhill crane, gray catbird (W), yellow-headed blackbird, green heron, yellow warbler (W), common snipe, least bittern (S), American bittern (S), sora rail (S), Virginia rail (S), and other species.

Northern sedge meadows interspersed with open water (average around 25%) and some emergent cover.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Black tern (D), yellow-headed blackbird (D), marsh wren (D), American bittern (S), common snipe, sora rail, great blue heron (F), sandhill crane, Virginia rail, yellow warbler (W), least bittern, and other species, including waterfowl.

Wet sites, relatively undisturbed (not former cropland), dominated by shrub cover (always <70% cover and typically <50% cover, but always >20%) with a tall, dense herbaceous understory (often sedge-dominated); emergent cover <5%.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Yellow warbler (D), gray catbird (D), cedar waxwing, Baltimore oriole, sandhill crane, rose-breasted grosbeak, house wren, great blue heron (F), northern flicker (W), black-capped chickadee, veery, indigo bunting, yellow-breasted chat, and other species. Note: In southern willow and dogwood carr: willow flycatcher is dominant. In northern alder swamp: alder flycatcher is dominant. In conifer-shrub swamps: veery and blue jay are dominant.

Northern sites on quaking bog mats; usually dominated by sphagnum and ericaceous heath (low shrubs); <50% sedge cover (wiregrass varieties); <10% cover of woody vegetation above 1 m.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Lincoln's sparrow (S), merlin (S,F), American robin, great blue heron (F), American crow (F), American bittern, common snipe, yellow warbler.

Mossed sphagnum bogs that have become dominated by grasses and wiregrass sedges; <5% woody cover.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Sandhill crane.

Variable, but not on sterile sands (savannas on sandy soils are categorized as oak/river barrens); sites with <30% cover of mature, open-grown trees. Shrub and sapling layers usually <10% cover. Herbaceous understory variable but typically consists of non-native grasses and forbs. Bird community highly variable, depending on structure of understory, development of shrub/sapling layer, and tree density and spacing.

Associated non-grassland bird species:
  Species associated with scattered trees: European starling, northern flicker, blue jay, Baltimore oriole, American robin, cedar waxwing, warbling vireo, chipping sparrow, American crow, great-crested flycatcher. As the tree canopy becomes more closed many more woodland species appear, including downy woodpecker, eastern wood-pewee, white-breasted nuthatch, wild turkey, black-capped chickadee, rose-breasted grosbeak, blue-gray gnatcatcher, least flycatcher.
  Species associated with shrubs or a shrub understory: Indigo bunting, yellow warbler, house wren, gray catbird, brown thrasher, northern cardinal, eastern towhee, chestnut-sided warbler (north).

Northern, predominantly herbaceous barrens, recently burned, with most woody vegetation under 1 m tall and <5% cover of woody vegetation over 1 m tall.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Chipping sparrow, eastern towhee, brown thrasher, sandhill crane (F), house wren, American crow (F), yellow warbler, northern flicker (F).

Northern barrens on large blocks, typically >200 acres. Patchy habitats, with a mix of open and wooded areas; cover of woody vegetation greater than 1 m tall ranges from 20-60%.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Eastern towhee (D), chestnut-sided warbler (D), brown thrasher (D), European starling (D), blue jay, cedar waxwing (D), chipping sparrow (D), Nashville warbler (D), American crow, indigo bunting, black-capped chickadee, gray catbird, rose-breasted grosbeak, American robin, yellow warbler, northern flicker, other species.

Northern barrens. Most woody vegetation consists of shrubs <3 m tall (15-40% cover), not patchy. Less than 5% woody cover >3 m tall.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Yellow warbler (D), eastern towhee (D), indigo bunting, brown thrasher, gray catbird, house wren, cedar waxwing, northern flicker, black-billed cuckoo, blue jay, chipping sparrow, other species.

Sandy-soiled sites on Wisconsin and Chippewa River terraces or on oak-dominated parts of Glacial Lake Wisconsin with mostly native vegetation. Woody cover averages 25-30% (always <70%), but variable proportions of oaks and conifers, mostly Hill's oak, red cedar, and jack pine.

Associated non-grassland bird species: House wren (D), gray catbird (D), eastern towhee (D), American robin (D), brown thrasher (D), cedar waxwing (D), great-crested flycatcher (D), chipping sparrow (D), blue jay, Baltimore oriole, European starling, northern flicker, indigo bunting, black-capped chickadee, Nashville warbler, house sparrow, yellow warbler, other species.

Central and northern conifer-dominated barrens: conifer cover ranges from 10-30% and is always greater than cover of hardwoods above 1 m tall.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Chipping sparrow (D), eastern towhee (D), American robin (D), Nashville warbler (D), blue jay (D), black-capped chickadee (D), indigo bunting, cedar waxwing, brown thrasher, yellow warbler, American crow, gray catbird, house wren, chestnut-sided warbler, northern cardinal, great-crested flycatcher, black-billed cuckoo, other species.

Formerly woods; <20% cover of woody vegetation >3 m tall; cover of woody vegetation <3 m tall is variable but always below 70%.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Eastern towhee (D), house wren (D), chestnut-sided warbler (D), indigo bunting (D), cedar waxwing (D), brown thrasher (D), yellow warbler, gray catbird, chipping sparrow, black-billed cuckoo, American robin, blue jay, northern flicker; many other species possible.

Conifer plantations with trees <3 m tall.

Associated non-grassland bird species: Chipping sparrow (D), cedar waxwing, American robin, Nashville warbler (central and north), eastern towhee, blue jay, brown thrasher, indigo bunting, black-capped chickadee (F), gray catbird, other species.

Mostly apple orchards; cherries (e.g., in Door County) and pears also.

Associated non-grassland bird species: American robin (D), black-capped chickadee (D), chipping sparrow (D), cedar waxwing (D), gray catbird, indigo bunting, Baltimore oriole, European starling, house wren, northern flicker, blue jay.


Associated non-grassland bird species: Chipping sparrow (D), American robin (D), cedar waxwing (D), European starling (D), American crow (D), northern cardinal, blue jay, house sparrow, house wren, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern towhee, indigo bunting, gray catbird, northern flicker, brown thrasher, Baltimore oriole, warbling vireo. Variable bird community; many other species possible.

a Birds listed are among those found in the Wisconsin grassland bird study. The five swallow species found in Wisconsin, as well as purple martin and chimney swift, can occur in any of these habitats as foragers and sometimes as nesters; none of these species will be mentioned in what follows.
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