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Effects of Fire in the Northern Great Plains

Effects of Fire on Shorebirds

Some research has evaluated the effect of fire on shorebird nesting habitats. Vogl (1973) found in Florida that burned shorelines along wetlands increased use by shorebirds such as common egrets (Casmerodius albus) and great blue herons (Ardea herodias). The birds were attracted to the shallow-water fishing ground made available when the fire removed the heavy grass mat that covered the shallow flats on the shorelines.

In Minnesota, Niemi (1978) found killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) were attracted to recently burned shorelines.

Kirsch and Kruse (1973) found more upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) broods were produced on burned grasslands than on unburned or grazed areas. Kirsch and Higgins (1976) reported that mean production of upland sandpipers was highest on prairie managed by prescribed burning during 2 out of 5 years. They suggested rotational burning at 3-year intervals.

Huber and Steuter (1984) also noted that upland sandpipers made greater use of areas previously burned than of unburned areas. After a May 3 burn in South Dakota, they found 50 upland sandpipers in the burned area in June; the unburned had none. In July the burned area had 24 and the unburned had six.

In summary, prescribed burning is a valuable management tool for upland nesting birds in grassland areas. The optimum timing and frequency of the prescribed burns is still being researched.

Kruse and Piehl (1986) stated that land managers who burn in the spring should consider partial burns if they are concerned about nesting birds. These burns have less impact on total vegetation changes but can result in higher recruitment rates than complete burns.

Higgins (1986b) surmised that annual fall burning would be harmful to wildlife due to the lack of residual nesting cover and suggested that to enhance waterfowl production burning should be done every other year at most.

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