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Managing Habitat for Grassland Birds
A Guide for Wisconsin

Wisconsin Grassland Bird Habitats

These photographs show examples of some of the grassland habitats we discuss in this guidebook. Bird communities associated with these habitats are shown in Table 1. Appendix E contains more detail about the characteristics of these habitats.        
Photo by David Sample: Fallow field Fallow fields have been plowed within the last three years. These habitats have some bare soil and lots of weeds (both grasses and forbs). Photo from Rock County.
Photo by Michelle Jesko: Alfalfa/legume hay field Alfalfa or legume hay are fairly young hay fields where the planted legumes make up more than half of the vegetation cover and where grass cover is low. This photo from Dane County shows alfalfa; other legumes in this habitat type include red clover and birdsfoot trefoil.
Photo by Leroy Petersen: Grass or grass/legume hay field Grass or grass/legume hay fields have a larger proportion of grass and forbs that are not legumes, such as the dandelions shown in this photo. Timothy, smooth brome, and orchard grass are the most common grasses. Photo from Dane County.
Photo by Robert Read: Heavily grazed pasture Pastures (heavily grazed) have very short vegetation due to a high density of livestock. This photo shows heavily grazed grass sod in the foreground and lower right, with thistles that the cattle have avoided, grading into a heavily grazed lowland, with sedge hummocks visible in the center of the photo.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Moderately grazed pasture Pastures (moderately grazed) have vegetation of medium height and density. Photo from Oconto County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Lightly grazed pasture Pastures (lightly grazed) have relatively tall grasses and forbs. This photo from Columbia County show thistles and other forbs in bloom.
Photo by Michelle Jesko: Pasture with shrubs and trees Pastures with shrubs and trees typically show this diversity of structure. This field in Iowa County is heavily grazed, with the variation in height at ground level resulting from lush growth of grasses on cow pies. Shrub-dependent birds such as loggerhead shrikes like this habitat.
Photo by David Sample: Idle cool season grass Idle cool season grass fields have a high proportion of typically non-native grasses (such as Kentucky bluegrass, timothy, and quack grass) and always some forbs. These fields are usually retired hay fields or pastures or planted for wildlife habitat. This photo, from Pine Island Wildlife Area in Columbia County, shows a medium-height field.
Photo by Lisa Dlutkowski: Idle warm season grass Idle warm season grass fields are like idle cool season grass fields but are composed of typically native grasses (such as big and little bluestem, Indian grass, and switchgrass) and forbs. They are usually medium to tall height. This field is in Swan lake Wildlife Area in Columbia County.
Photo by David Sample: Dry old field Dry old fields are former cropland (out of production for more than three years) on upland soils, now dominated by perennial grasses and lots of forbs. This field, in Mud Lake Wildlife Area in Columbia County, grades into upland shrubs in the background.
Photo by Scott Sauer, The Nature Conservancy: Upland shrub field Upland shrub fields are grass-dominated with a light cover of scattered shrubs. They can succeed from many different histories, usually agricultural. This retired pasture is part of the Nature Conservancy's Thomson Prairie in Iowa County.
Photo courtesy DNR Archives: Shrubby wet old field Shrubby wet old fields are fields of grasses and forbs mixed with a light cover of lowland shrubs. This example in Dane County shows more shrub cover than is useful for grassland birds.
Photo by Lisa Dlutkowski: Dry sand prairie Dry sand prairies are remnant communities of native grasses and forbs on sandy or droughty soils, possibly with some scattered shrubs. Fields of most value to grassland birds are not on steep slopes. This photo shows Butenhoff Prairie in Green County.
Photo courtesy DNR Archives: Dry-mesic prairie Dry-mesic prairies have slightly taller vegetation than dry sand prairies. This site has dry-mesic prairie with a few invading shrubs and saplings.
Photo by Richard Henderson: Wet-mesic prairie Wet-mesic prairies, along with wet prairies, typically have the tallest vegetation of prairie types. This example is Faville Prairie State Natural Area in Jefferson County.
Photo by Lisa Dlutkowski: Southern sedge meadow Southern sedge meadow has dense, homogeneous vegetation, mostly broad-leaved sedges. While sedge meadows have the hydrologic characteristics of a wetland, their vegetation structure supports grassland birds. This example is in Swan Lake Wildlife Area in Columbia County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Northern sedge meadow Northern sedge meadow is typically dominated by wiregrass sedges. Many extensive tracts of northern sedge meadow still exist, such as this site, Reeds Lake Sedge Meadow, at Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Burnett County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Southern sedge marsh Southern sedge marsh is similar to sedge meadow, but with some open water and emergent plants. Sedge marsh supports both wetland birds and grassland birds that are habitat specialists. This example is in St. Croix County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Northern sedge marsh Northern sedge marsh, like northern sedge meadow, is often found in large landscapes, such as this one in Crex Meadows Wildlife Area in Burnett County.
Photo by William Vander Zouwen: Shrub swamp Shrub swamps are not former cropland. They are sedge meadows with shrubs typically covering less than half of the area. This site in Dodge County has somewhat more shrub cover than is ideal for grassland birds.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Open bog Open bogs are floating mats of vegetation with few trees. This is another wetland habitat that supports grassland birds because of its vegetation structure, which includes sedges, sphagnum moss, and low shrubs. This bog is in the Sylvania Wilderness Area, just across the border in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Oak savanna Oak savannas can have a wide variety of herbaceous understory vegetation associated with scattered, mature, open-grown oaks. Almost all of the remaining oak savanna has non-native understory, like this site in Iowa County.
Photo by Richard Henderson: Oak savanna with shrubs Oak savanna with shrubs have fewer of the open grassland bird species than those without shrubs, but they include some additional species. Both types of savannas attract some grassland birds and other species that require mature trees for nesting. This example is in Dane County.
Photo by Lisa Hartman: Open barren Open barrens are large expanses of prairie-like vegetation on sandy soils that have been recently burned. They are most common in northern Wisconsin and typically have only very short woody vegetation. This site is in Bayfield County.
Photo by Eric Epstein: Diverse barren Diverse barrens are large landscapes in northern Wisconsin that consist of mixed patches of open areas, woods, and shrubs. Like all barrens, this habitat is maintained through prescribed burning. This is the Solon Springs Sharptail Barrens State Natural Area in Douglas County.
Photo by Eric Epstein: Brush prairie barren Brush prairie barrens are prairie-like areas in northern Wisconsin with oak grubs and other shrubs stunted by regular burning. This is Namekagon Barrens in Burnett County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Oak/River barren Oak/River barrens are primarily found on the sandy terraces along the Wisconsin and Chippewa rivers and parts of Glacial Lake Wisconsin. They are like oak savannas, but typically with Hill's and bur oaks, red cedar, and jack pine. This site is in the Tiffany State Wildlife Area in Buffalo County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Conifer barren Conifer barrens are savanna-like areas on sandy soils, typically with scattered jack pine and some hard woods. This is Moquah Barrens in Bayfield County.
Photo by Michael Mossman: Cut/burned-over area Cut/burned-over areas are former forests where the regrowth is less than 10 ft tall. This example is in Adams County.
Photo courtesy DNR Archives: Young conifer plantation Young conifer plantations are fields planted in conifers less than 10 ft tall.

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