Breeding bird use of grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program in the northern Great Plains

Agriculture is the dominant land use on privately owned lands in the midcontinent of the United States. Management decisions on agricultural lands are heavily influenced by a variety of policies and programs established by the federal government in periodic Farm Bills. In a long-term and ongoing study (1990-present), Northern Prairie researchers have been evaluating the use of grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by breeding birds in four states (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana) in the northern Great Plains. This is the longest and most extensive evaluation of CRP grasslands and breeding birds of its kind. Results from this and allied studies have been used both to generate support for renewal of the CRP in past Farm Bills and to make the Prairie Pothole Region a high-priority area for CRP. This study has shown that grassland birds make considerable use of CRP fields during the breeding season, including many species of grassland birds that have been declining in abundance in recent decades. Data from this study were used to predict how grassland bird populations would change if CRP grasslands were converted back to cropland. The study also provided the best evidence that grassland birds prefer large blocks of suitable habitat, and determined the habitat preferences of many grassland bird species. Additional topics that are being addressed with this study are 1) the effects of seeding-mixture types (native or introduced) on breeding birds, 2) the short- and long-term effects of haying CRP grasslands on breeding birds, 3) the influences of landscape features on breeding-bird use of planted fields, 4) breeding-bird use of CRP in relation to the ratio of upland to wetland areas, 5) long-term changes in grassland bird populations in CRP, and more.

Principal Investigator(s):

Lawrence D Igl

Douglas H Johnson

Wesley E Newton

Project Status:

In Progress


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