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Managing Habitat for Grassland Birds
A Guide for Wisconsin


APPENDIX F.  Details on general and special habitat features required or preferred by grassland bird species.

Species are arranged into groups based on general habitat requirements, as in Table 5. Species of management concern are shown in bold.

  Killdeer Bare ground/rocks/gravel, mudflats, short vegetation (if any); also various types of pavement.
  Horned lark Prefers habitats with very short and sparse vegetation or bare soil (e.g., plowed agricultural fields, heavily grazed pasture, dry prairies); early nester.
  Common nighthawk Areas with short, sparse grass cover or bare soil are preferred, often sandy or gravelly ground with rocky knolls, tolerates some scattered woody vegetation (e.g., dry or sand prairies, barrens). Also flat, gravel rooftops.
  Vesper sparrow Some bare ground required, sparse or short vegetation (e.g., row crops, fallow fields, barrens); elevated song perches (tree, shrub, forb, fence, etc.) frequently used.
  Grasshopper sparrow Some bare soil required; most common in habitats with relatively short (5-20 cm height-density) vegetation and fairly diverse structure. Can inhabit taller grass habitats if vegetation is patchy and not overly dense. Stiff-stemmed forbs used for song perches.
  Upland sandpiper Short to medium height grasslands (5-35 cm height-density); shortgrass especially important for brood-rearing and foraging; makes frequent use of perching posts. Tends to prefer large, open fields (&ge100 acres).
  Western meadowlark Likes relatively short, open, idle or grazed grasslands; only a limited amount (<5% cover) of scattered woody vegetation above 1 m tall is tolerated; fencelines, forbs, and posts, etc. used for perches. Tends to prefer habitats with less woody cover and shorter vegetation height-density than eastern meadowlark.

  Savannah sparrow A habitat generalist. Occurs in habitats with a broad range of vegetation structure; most common in fairly lush, short to medium height grasslands (e.g., hay, pasture). Often uses stiff-stemmed forbs for song perches. Does not require significant standing residual vegetation in the spring.
  Eastern meadowlark Generalist species, occurring in a variety of habitats. Prefers idle or lightly grazed, grass-dominated habitats with stiff-stemmed forbs; other structures and scattered trees, saplings, and shrubs also readily used for perches when available. Herbaceous vegetation typically 10-35 cm height-density; prefers a dense litter layer.
  Bobolink Generalist; prefers habitats with lush herbaceous vegetation of medium to tall height-density; readily uses a variety of perches (e.g., forbs, shrubs, occasionally trees) for singing. Does not require standing residual vegetation in spring.
  Dickcissel Prefers upland grasslands with medium to tall height-density and a significant component of forbs (some stiff-stemmed); forbs, sparse woody vegetation, fences, and utility lines are readily used for singing perches. Arrives and nests late.

  Le Conte's sparrow Occurs in relatively tall, dense vegetation, typically sedge meadows, but also northern uplands such as idle grasslands or grass hay; prefers abundant residual vegetation.
  Red-winged blackbird Very generalized nesting habitat but most common in habitats with relatively tall, dense vegetation.
  Yellow rail Specialist; occurs in large (>100 acre) expanses of sedge-dominated meadows (typically narrow-leaved varieties), mainly in the north; few scattered shrubs tolerated; abundant residual vegetation preferred.
  Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow Specialist; mainly restricted to large sedge meadows (especially those dominated by narrow-leaved sedges) in the extreme north and northwest parts of the state; likes abundant residual vegetation. Similar habitat to that preferred by yellow rails.
  Henslow's sparrow Prefers habitats with tall to moderately tall, dense vegetation (grass-dominated); prefers habitat with tall standing residual vegetation and a dense litter layer in spring. Some shrubs tolerated; woody cover above 1 m typically <2%.
  Common yellowthroat Requires relatively tall, dense vegetation. Shrub component preferred but not necessary (when shrubs are present, herbaceous vegetation can be shorter). Abundant residual vegetation preferred. Tends to prefer wet sites, but occurs in uplands as well.
  Sedge wren Occurs most frequently in habitats on upland or lowland sites with homogeneous stands of tall, dense vegetation (grass or sedge-dominated); typically requires abundant litter. Variable breeding phonology; may nest late.
  Swamp sparrow Tall, dense vegetation (grass or sedge-dominated), with or without shrubs; most common in wet sites; abundant residual vegetation preferred. Most common in cattail-dominated emergent marshes.


  Cattle egret Pastures, idle short grass; trees or shrubs needed for nesting.
  Red-tailed hawk Woodlot or mature trees for nesting and perching; adjacent grasslands used for foraging.
  American kestrel Mature trees with cavities or nest boxes near grasslands for foraging.
  Gray partridge Occurs in relatively open cultivated agricultural landscapes; grassy nest cover is typically near brushy fencerows, hedgerows, and shrub clumps used for escape cover. Grains and weed seeds needed for winter food.
  Ring-necked pheasant Most common in tall grassy nest cover with standing residual vegetation present in spring; requires winter food (corn/sorghum) and cover (shrub carr or cattail marsh, dense standing residual vegetation, upland brushy areas).
  Northern bobwhite Idle grasslands, old fields preferred for nesting and foraging; rowcrops and small grains used for foraging; shrubs, brush piles, brushy hedgerows, etc. needed for escape cover and roosting; grains required for winter food.
  Mourning dove Likes some bare ground; patchy vegetation used for nesting and foraging; adjacent woody cover used for perching and also for nesting.
  Red-headed woodpecker Generalist; requires mature trees for nesting cavities. Most characteristic of landscapes with scattered open-grown trees.
  Mourning dove Prefers lowland habitats with shrubs north of the tension zone (e.g., alder swamps, bogs, stream edges).
  Willow flycatcher Prefers lowland habitats with shrubs (especially willow-dominated shrub swamps), but also occurs in upland habitats with shrubs. Occurs mostly south of the tension zone.
  Eastern kingbird Generalist; occurs in a variety of relatively open habitats and habitats with scattered shrubs or trees, edges between wooded and grassland habitats; both upland and lowland sites. At least one sapling or tree required (for nesting and perching).
  Barn swallow Generalized foraging habitat, often over forages over low grasslands and crop fields; nesting structure required (e.g., bridge, barn).
  Eastern bluebird Tree cavity or nest box required for nesting; perches used for foraging; open to somewhat open habitats with relatively short grass vegetation are typically preferred for foraging.
  Loggerhead shrike Requires some—or at least one—shrubs, saplings, or small trees (usually spiny or thorny) for nesting, perching, and impaling prey (e.g., hawthorn, plum, red cedar, apple, crabapple); prefers idle to lightly grazed shortgrass to midgrass habitats for foraging. Also perches on wires; impales prey on barbed wire.
  Bell's vireo Prefers clumps of shrubs or saplings, or shrubby edges of small woods for nesting, with adjacent grassland or herbaceous cover. Often nests near water or wetlands or in lowland sites (e.g., draws or shallow ravines), but also regularly nests in uplands.
  Clay-colored sparrow Scattered or locally dense shrubs (typically 1-25% woody cover above 1m tall) in an idle grassland context. Inhabits both upland or lowland sites.
  Field sparrow Scattered shrubs or saplings (typically 1-25% woody cover above 1 m tall) mixed with idle grassland; also shrubby woods edge. Prefers dry, upland sites.
  Lark sparrow Habitat specialist. Strongly prefers sites with bare soil or sand blows (e.g., sand prairie) and short, sparse herbaceous vegetation; prefers habitats with a few scattered shrubs or small saplings.
  Song sparrow Generalist; shrub component preferred but not necessary (when shrubs are not present vegetation must be relatively tall and dense); often some bare soil; stiff-stemmed forbs used frequently for perching and singing.
  Brewer's blackbird Prefers short to moderate height grassland with some bare soil (often on recently burned or plowed sites) and typically with a light litter layer. Scattered shrubs, trees, saplings, and snags often used for perching, but does not require woody vegetation in nesting fields.
  Common grackle Generalist; cultivated cropland and relatively short grassland used for foraging; conifers, deciduous shrubs and small trees, and cattails used for nesting.
  Brown-headed cowbird Generalist; perches required for searching for host nests. Relatively short-grass vegetation needed for foraging.
  Orchard oriole Generalist; requires trees for nesting. Typical nesting habitats include farmyards with trees, hedgerows or roadsides with trees, savannas, and open or oak/river barrens.
  American goldfinch Generalist; inhabits a wide variety of grasslands and edges with thistles and other Compositae spp.. Prefers, but does not require, a shrub component.


  Dabbling ducks: American green-winged teal, Northern pintail, Blue-winged teal, Northern shoveler, Gadwall, American wigeon All require water for breeding pairs (temporary and seasonal) and broods (semipermanent and permanent). Pair and brood water should be within 1 mile of each other. Idle grass nest cover should ideally be located within 1/2 mile of a wetland basin (permanent or semi-permanent). Herbaceous nesting cover requirements are somewhat variable between species (see Table 1).
  Mallard Same requirements for wetlands as other dabbling ducks, but an extreme generalist for nest cover.
  Wilson's phalarope Specialist in sedge- or grass-dominated meadows interspersed with open shallow water (averages around 15% cover of water). Tends to inhabit blocks of suitable habitat >100 acres in size.

For all species in this group, the overall amount, types, and distribution of grassland habitats are more important than individual field sizes.
  Northern harrier Inhabits large, open landscapes of idle grass fields, sedge meadows, open bogs, dry and wet old fields, and some cropland; some shrub cover is allowable (typically <20% cover). Both uplands and lowlands used; forages over a wide range of grassland habitats. Prefers blocks of uncultivated grassland >100 to 250 acres and larger.
  Greater prairie-chicken Requires large expanses of open, idle grassland, which can be scattered in agricultural landscapes of pasture, grass hay, grains, and some row crops. Large open landscapes with blocks of idle grassland >250 acres are best. Short-grass micro-sites are required for booming grounds, while taller vegetation is used for nesting and roosting. Minimal scattered woody vegetation, such as shrub or sapling clumps, or woods edges are used for roosting cover, especially in winter. Grains are an important winter food. Small breeding range in Wisconsin centers on managed properties.
  Sharp-tailed grouse Prefers brush prairie, open and diverse barrens, cut- or burned-over forest lands; also uses wetlands such as sedge meadows and bogs. Requires significant brush also sapling cover (more than is required for prairie-chickens), especially in fall and winter. Some open, relatively shortgrass habitat required for dancing grounds. Needs large expanses of open habitat (optimally in blocks >250 acres).
  Barn owl Requires a natural or artificial nesting structure, such as a tree cavity or box. Requires large landscapes of open farmland, idle grassland, and wet meadow for hunting; may be limited by snow depth in winter.
  Short-eared owl Prefers large open expanses of idle grassland, sedge meadows, pastures, and bogs; some shrub cover often present. Typically nests in blocks of idle grassland >100 to 250 acres and larger.

a Species in the first three categories are arranged roughly in order of increasing height-density of required vegetation. In subsequent categories, species are listed in taxonomic order.

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