Scientists Collecting Bird Data on Grasslands in Montana this Spring

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Now through late July, 2018, U.S. Geological Survey scientists will conduct fieldwork on public lands in Phillips and Valley counties near Malta and Glasgow, Montana, as part of a grassland bird project.

Grassland birds across North America

This map shows the diversity of grassland birds across North America. (Credit: USGS)

The surveyed land will include roadside areas and grasslands on state, federal and private properties, with permission. Ranchers or residents in the area may see USGS scientists conducting fieldwork.

The Prairie Pothole Region of the northern Great Plains is critical breeding, nesting and migration habitat for grassland birds, including imperiled species such as Sprague’s pipit, Baird’s sparrow and chestnut-collared longspur. These birds provide valuable ecosystem services and contribute to tourism in the region, but are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Grassland birds are declining at a higher rate than any other group of birds in North America,” said Thomas Buhl, a USGS scientist and the project field manager. “Findings from our research may help managers protect grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region to better conserve grassland-nesting birds, including many species of game birds.”

USGS scientists will visit 30 to 40 sites repeatedly throughout the breeding season to count and record grassland birds. They will use the data to determine if counts conducted from roads are reliable indicators of bird abundance in habitat away from roads. Road surveys are much more cost-effective than off-road surveys, but some species may be less common near roads, whereas others may be more numerous.

The findings will help scientists estimate bird population sizes and improve population data used by various management agencies. Results are expected to be available by January 1, 2019.

For more information about grassland bird research in the Prairie Pothole Region, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website.