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Grassland ecosystems are dependent on periodic disturbance for habitat maintenance. Historically, grazing by native herbivores and prairie fires were the agents principally responsible for maintaining grassland areas. However, elimination of native herbivores, wide-spread fire suppression, and conversion for agriculture have greatly altered grasslands in the United States and Canada. Because of these landscape changes, many grassland birds are increasingly dependent on land managers for habitat creation, maintenance, and health. Grazing, prescribed burning, and mowing/haying are the most frequently used, and versatile, grassland management techniques. Grassland birds prefer a wide range of grass heights and densities, with some species preferring short sparse vegetation, and others preferring taller, more dense vegetation. Due to differences in species habitat preferences and regional differences in soils and floristics, the responses of individual grassland species to specific grassland management practices can be variable and often are regionally dependent. As a result, management of grassland areas is best directed toward the creation of a mosaic of grassland habitat types. This habitat mosaic is probably best maintained through some type of rotational management system in which sections of large grassland areas receive management on a regular schedule. Such a rotational system would provide a variety of habitat types in every year, would ensure the availability of suitable habitat for birds at either end of the grassland management spectrum, and also would provide habitat for birds whose preferences lie between these extremes.
Additional Publication Details
Grassland birds: An overview of threats and recommended management strategies
U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station