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Habitat relationships of birds overwintering in a managed coastal prairie

January 1, 2007

Grassland birds are considered to be rapidly declining in North America. Management approaches for grassland birds frequently rely on prescribed burning to maintain habitat in suitable condition. We evaluated the relationships among years since burn, vegetation structure, and overwintering grassland bird abundance in coastal prairie. Le Conte's Sparrows (Ammodramus leconteii) were most common in areas that had: (1) been burned within the previous 2 years, (2) medium density herbaceous vegetation, and (3) sparse shrub densities. Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) were associated with areas: (1) burned within 1 year, (2) with sparse herbaceous vegetation, and (3) with sparse shrub densities. Sedge Wrens (Cistothorus platensis) were most common in areas that had: (1) burned greater than 2 years prior and (2) dense herbaceous vegetation. Swamp Sparrows (Melospiza georgiana): (1) were most common in areas of dense shrubs, (2) not related to time since burnings, and (3) demonstrated no relationship to herbaceous vegetation densities. The relationships to fire histories for all four bird species could be explained by the associated vegetation characteristics indicating the need for a mosaic of burn rotations and modest levels of woody vegetation.