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Effects of Fire on Bird Populations in Mixed-grass Prairie

By

Douglas H. Johnson


The mixed-grass prairie is one of the largest ecosystems in North America, originally covering about 69 million hectares (Bragg and Steuter 1995). Although much of the natural vegetation has been replaced by cropland and other uses (Samson and Knopf 1994, Bragg and Steuter 1995), significant areas have been preserved in national wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, state game management areas, and nature preserves. Mixed-grass prairie evolved with fire (Bragg 1995), and fire is frequently used as a management tool for prairie (Berkey et al. 1993).

Much of the mixed-grass prairie that has been protected is managed to enhance the reproductive success of waterfowl and other gamebirds, but nongame birds now are receiving increasing emphasis. Despite the importance of the area to numerous species of birds and the aggressive management applied to many sites, relatively little is known about the effects of fire on the suitability of mixed-grass prairie for breeding birds. Several studies have examined effects of fire on breeding birds in the tallgrass prairie (e.g., Tester and Marshall 1961, Eddleman 1974, Halvorsen and Anderson 1983, Westenmeier and Buhnerkempe 1983, Zimmerman 1992, Herkert 1994), in western sagebrush grasslands (Peterson and Best 1987), and in shrubsteppe (Bock and Bock 1987).

Studies of fire effects in the mixed-grass prairie are limited. Huber and Steuter (1984) examined the effects on birds during the breeding season following an early-May prescribed burn on a 122-ha site in South Dakota. They contrasted the bird populations on that site to those on a nearby 462-ha unburned site that had been lightly grazed by bison (Bison bison). Pylypec (1991) monitored breeding bird populations occurring in fescue prairies of Canada on a single 12.9-ha burned area and on an adjacent 5.6-ha unburned fescue prairie for three years after a prescribed burn.

This chapter describes the effects of prescribed fire on common terrestrial birds at a mixed-grass prairie site in east-central North Dakota. Birds were censused annually during 1972-95 on seven plots subjected to various regimes of prescribed fire.


This resource is based on the following source (Northern Prairie Publication 0989):
Johnson, Douglas H.  1997.  Effects of fire on bird populations in mixed-grass 
     prairie.  Pages 181-206 in F. L. Knopf and F. B. Samson, eds.  Ecology and 
     conservation of Great Plains vertebrates, Chapter 8. Springer, NY.
This resource should be cited as:
Johnson, Douglas H.  1997.  Effects of fire on bird populations in mixed-grass 
     prairie.  Pages 181-206 in F. L. Knopf and F. B. Samson, eds.  Ecology and 
     conservation of Great Plains vertebrates, Chapter 8. Springer, NY.  
     Jamestown ND:  Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/habitat/firebird/index.htm 
     (Version 15JUN99).

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