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Effects of Fire on Bird Populations in Mixed-grass Prairie

Conclusions


The birds considered in these analyses can be grouped into three major categories, depending on their response to burning and successional changes in vegetation. In the first group are those species that respond positively and immediately to a burned area. Included are three of the common shorebirds at Woodworth: Killdeer, Marbled Godwit, and Upland Sandpiper. All three favor open areas with sparse vegetation, where they forage. The Killdeer and Marbled Godwit likewise nest in these open areas, but the Upland Sandpiper typically nests in heavier vegetation. Other species, not treated here in because of limited numbers observed, that likely would favor recently burned mixed-grass prairies include the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) and Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus).

The second category includes those species that use habitats enhanced by long-term protection from fire, specifically the woody vegetation that encroaches in unburned grassland. The most common species at Woodworth in this group are Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Clay-colored Sparrow, and Brown-headed Cowbird. The Red-winged Blackbird also uses brushy vegetation, but at Woodworth relied more on wetland habitats.

In the third category are birds that avoid recently burned areas, but favor grassland with little or no woody vegetation. Several of these species are most common two to five years following a fire. These might be termed true grassland species. Included in this category are Bobolink, Western Meadowlark, Grasshopper Sparrow, Baird's Sparrow, and Savannah Sparrow.

Two species analyzed here did not fit into any of the three categories. The Willet, although commonly seen in the uplands, uses mostly wetland habitat except for nesting. No evidence of a response to burning was detected. The Sedge Wren used upland habitats, but usually only when long-term precipitation patterns resulted in luxuriant herbaceous growth. This species showed no response to grassland burning, except for a reduction immediately following a fire.


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