The combustion of perennial grass biomass to generate electricity may be a promising renewable energy option. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) grown as a biofuel has the potential to provide a cash crop for farmers and quality nesting cover for grassland birds. In southwestern Wisconsin (near lat. 42??52???, long. 90??08???), we investigated the impact of an August harvest of switchgrass for bioenergy on community composition and abundance of Wisconsin grassland bird species of management concern. Harvesting the switchgrass in August resulted in changes in vegetation structure and bird species composition the following nesting season. In harvested transects, residual vegetation was shorter and the litter layer was reduced in the year following harvest. Grassland bird species that preferred vegetation of short to moderate height and low to moderate density were found in harvested areas. Unharvested areas provided tall, dense vegetation structure that was especially attractive to tall-grass bird species, such as sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis) and Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii). When considering wildlife habitat value in harvest management of switchgrass for biofuel, leaving some fields unharvested each year would be a good compromise, providing some habitat for a larger number of grassland bird species of management concern than if all fields were harvested annually. In areas where most idle grassland habitat present on the landscape is tallgrass, harvest of switchgrass for biofuel has the potential to increase the local diversity of grassland birds.
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Grassland bird response to harvesting switchgrass as a biomass energy crop