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Managing Habitat for Grassland Birds
A Guide for Wisconsin

Natural Divisions: Lake Michigan Shoreland

Twenty of thirty years [ago] the cheerful, chattering song of the active bird, the short-billed marsh wren (Cistothorus stellaris)(sic) was heard in every low prairie covered with fine carex... I have seen or heard scarcely a bird of this kind for fifteen or twenty years. Their song has been silenced by the click of the mower. The hay harvest comes before the young are fledged, hence the mower is fatal to this wren's best interests. They have gone, I hope, somewhere where carex abounds and mowers do not.

—Philo R. Hoy, Man's Influence on the
Avifauna of Southeastern Wisconsin

(Hoy 1885)

Small Map: Lake Michigan Shoreland

Before European settlement, this natural division was largely dominated by northern mesic forests, with pockets of conifer swamps, pine barrens, pine forests, sedge meadows, lowland hardwood forests, boreal forests (northern Door County), southern mesic forests (in the southern tip), and a few oak savannas. Major habitat for grassland birds was generally limited to the extensive emergent marshes and sedge meadows of the west shore of Green Bay, some of the barrens habitats, and a few oak savannas.

There are nine priority bird species in this natural division (see sidebar), including one each of the shortgrass species, species requiring woody vegetation or nest structures, and species requiring open water, two of the tallgrass species, three of the midgrass species, and one species requiring large areas from the statewide list (see Table 5).

Shortgrass species.
Upland sandpiper reaches high densities in parts of this division, including southern Door County and in some counties along Lake Michigan, where hay and small grains are common.

Midgrass species.
Savannah sparrow, bobolink, and eastern meadowlark are common in pastures and hayfields throughout.

Tallgrass species.
Yellow rail is found mainly in the sedge meadows on the western shore of Green Bay, where it was historically abundant (Le Conte's sparrow historically occurred there and may still). Sedge wrens occur throughout the division.

Species requiring woody vegetation or nest structures.
Brewer's blackbird is most common in the northern part of this division. (This division especially Door county, was formerly a stronghold for loggerhead shrike, but restoration potential is uncertain because the area is now isolated from other breeding populations.)

Species requiring open water.
Wilson's phalarope is locally distributed in suitable habitat throughout, for example in the Peshtigo Harbor Unit of Green Bay Shores Wildlife Area (82).

Species requiring large areas.
Barn owls have used grassland habitats for foraging and nesting in several counties bordering Lake Michigan (Matteson and Petersen 1988).

Habitats, Landscapes, and Sites
Much former forest land has been converted to agriculture, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the division. The Lake Michigan Shoreland division is one of the prime areas for growing small grains and hay, especially alfalfa, in the state. There are roughly 4,500 acres of permanent grassland habitat in blocks greater than 100 acres in the Lake Michigan Shoreland—the lowest amount of any division. Two-thirds of this acreage is wet grass or sedge meadows.

Priority habitats, landscapes, and sites for grassland management in the Lake Michigan Shoreland are listed next to Figure 12. This formerly forested division probably has fewer opportunities for grassland bird management than any other division. Green Bay West Shores Sedge Meadows Landscape (S), the sedge meadows on the west shore of Green Bay, offers the best opportunity in the division for management of sedge meadow birds, including yellow rail.

The agricultural grasslands in Door County such as Brussels Area Grasslands (II) and Liberty Grove Grasslands (HH) offer opportunities for management of upland sandpiper and associated species—for example, by promoting pasture, late-cut grass hay or mixed grass and legume hay, small grains, and idle shortgrass and midgrass habitats. Any grassland management activities at the Liberty Grove Grasslands (GG) in the northern Door peninsula, however, will require careful coordination with efforts to preserve important northern forest and wetland communities immediately to the north (e.g., the Mink River corridor); grasslands may be of secondary importance there.

Areas in the counties along Lake Michigan south of Door County also have similar grassland management opportunities, because of the current lack of forest cover and the character of the agricultural landscapes. An example is the open, wetland-dotted agricultural landscape north of Two Rivers in Manitowoc County (Two Rivers and Two Creeks townships). As in Door County, forest management and restoration issues need to be evaluated along with any proposed grassland management at sites such as this. For example, remnant forest at Point Beach State Forest and State Park may benefit from expansion of forest acreage; grassland management activities adjacent to the forest may therefore be determined to be inappropriate or of low priority.

Photo by Michael Mossman: Northern sedge meadow
This northern sedge meadow near Peshtigo Harbor is part of the Green Bay West Shore Sedge Meadows landscape, the only priority landscape in the Lake Michigan Shoreland Natural Division. This habitat type was historically much more extensive throughout the landscape than it is today.  

      Drawing by Cary Hunkel: Sedge wren
Sedge wren
Species of management concern in the Central Plains
(in order of priority)

Upland sandpiper
Yellow rail
Sedge wren
Wilson's phalarope
Eastern meadowlark
Savannah sparrow
Brewer's blackbird (north)
Barn owl

Drawing by Jim McEvoy: Brewer's blackbird
Brewer's blackbird

Figure 12: Map of the Lake Michigan Shoreland Natural Division showing locations of priority and secondary landscapes along with sites for management focus
Figure 12.  Priority landscapes and sites for grassland bird management in the Lake Michigan Shoreland Natural Division.

Landscape and Site Names1   Habitat Types (see below for 4-letter codes)

S.  Green Bay West Shore Sedge Meadows   NSME, SSME, SSMA, SHSW2
Sites: 81.  Oconto Marsh-Reed Lake Unit; Green Bay Shores Wildlife Area (WA) NSME, NSMA, SHSW
82.  Peshtigo Harbor Unit (Green Bay Shores WA) NSME, SHSW, SSMA
HH.  Liberty Grove Grasslands   GLHA, SMGR, DROF, UPSH
II.  Brussels Area Grasslands   GLHA, SMGR, PAST, DROF
        Other Sites Located Outside of Landscapes:
79.  Collins Marsh WA   IWSG, ICSG, OASA, SHSW, SSME, WEOF

1 Landscapes are ranked from highest priority to lowest priority. Sites are not ranked within landscapes. Four-letter codes represent priority habitat types that are present in the sites and landscapes.
2 Codes listed after landscape names refer to habitats common or present within the landscape, in areas other than the numbered sites.

Priority Grassland Habitats for Management in the Lake Michigan Shoreland 1
(ranked by priority)

NSME Northern sedge meadow:
(S) Green Bay West Shore Sedge Meadows Landscape, (80) Navarino WA, (81) Oconto Marsh-Reed Lake Unit, (82) Peshtigo Harbor Unit
PAST Pasture:
(II) Brussels Area Grasslands Landscape, and on agricultural lands throughout the division
SSME Southern sedge meadow:
(S) Green Bay West Shore Sedge Meadows Landscape, (79) Collins Marsh WA
IWSG Idle warm season grass/forb (medium and tall):
(80) Navarino WA, (79) Collins Marsh WA
ICSG Idle cool season grass/forb (short, medium, and tall):
(80) Navarino WA, (79) Collins Marsh WA
DROF Dry old field:
(HH) Liberty Grove Grasslands Landscape, (80) Navarino WA, (II) Brussels Area Grasslands Landscape
GLHA Grass or grass/legume hay:
(HH) Liberty Grove Grasslands Landscape, (II) Brussels Area Grasslands Landscape; elsewhere in counties along Lake Michigan
NSMA Northern sedge marsh:
(81) Oconto Marsh-Reed Lake Unit
SSMA Southern sedge marsh:
(82) Peshtigo Harbor Unit, (S) Green Bay West Shore Sedge Meadows Landscape
UPSH Upland shrub:
(HH) Liberty Grove Grasslands Landscape, (80) Navarino WA
WEOF Wet old field:
(79) Collins Marsh WA
SMGR Small grains:
(HH) Liberty Grove Grasslands Landscape, (II) Brussels Area Grasslands Landscape
OPBO Open bog:
(80) Navarino WA
SHSW Shrub swamp:
(81) Oconto Marsh-Reed Lake Unit, (82) Peshtigo Harbor Unit, (S) Green Bay West Shore Sedge Meadows Landscape, (79) Collins Marsh WA, (80) Navarino WA
OASA Oak savanna:
(79) Collins Marsh WA, (80) Navarino WA
SWOF Shrubby wet old field:
(80) Navarino WA

1 Habitats are ranked by priority within the division. Each habitat is followed by suggested landscapes and sites for management, arranged roughly from highest to lowest priority. Landscape letter codes and site number codes in parentheses correspond to the map. See Table 1 and Appendix E for descriptions of bird communities expected in the habitats listed.

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