Grassland and shrubland birds of Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site: Current status and management recommendations

Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR—2007/102



Gettysburg National Military Park (NMP) and Eisenhower National Historic Site (NHS) were surveyed for grassland birds during the 2005 breeding season. These parks currently maintain a total of approximately 1,220 ha (3,015 ac) of grassland habitats within a mosaic of cultivated fields and woodlands. The grasslands are hayfields managed through agricultural leases and fields maintained by the National Park Service (NPS). Most grasslands are composed of introduced cool-season grasses, but Gettysburg NMP maintains a few fields dominated by switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and is creating additional warm-season grasslands. Hayfields managed through agricultural leases support few grassland birds. The most numerous grassland bird communities are found between Seminary and Cemetery ridges in fields managed by the NPS. The parks discourage hay harvesting before July in all fields in an effort to improve the reproductive success of grassland birds.

Shrub-dominated habitats were scarce in both parks. A few areas that were harvested recently for timber supported early successional communities in Gettysburg NMP. Other shrublands were limited to narrow corridors (<10 m [32 ft]) bordering fields and drainages. No shrublands were present on Eisenhower NHS, but an abandoned pasture along Willoughby Run was reverting into a mesic shrubland.

Four species of obligate grassland birds were recorded during the 2005 surveys. A population of approximately 130 bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) was primarily restricted to grasslands between Seminary and Cemetery ridges maintained by the NPS and a hayfield on Eisenhower NHS. This population is large for southeastern Pennsylvania and the surrounding region. Eastern meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) were most numerous in the same fields occupied by bobolinks but smaller numbers were scattered in other grasslands. Grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) were locally distributed in Conservation Reserve Program fields and other grasslands with more open vegetation. Savannah sparrows (Passervulus sandwichensis) were limited to one disturbed area undergoing conversion to warm-season grasses. When compared with other cultural parks in this region, the Gettysburg-Eisenhower complex supports a relatively abundant grassland bird community. This community is restricted to a portion of existing grassland habitats, but the potential exists to support a more diverse and abundant grassland avifauna.

The following recommendations provide the most immediate benefits for breeding grassland birds in these parks under the current habitat conditions and management strategies. These recommendations are based on the assumption that the current policy of delayed mowing continues in both parks: improve grassland composition on leased hayfields; increase extent of early successional stages of grasslands; reduce fragmentation of grassland habitats; and improve grassland diversity by creating additional communities of native warm-season grasses.

Because shrublands are currently scarce in both parks, the only recommendation is directed towards creating and maintaining shrub-dominated successional habitats: Explore opportunities for creating shrubby successional habitats in both parks.

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title Grassland and shrubland birds of Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site: Current status and management recommendations
Series title Technical Report
Series number NPS/NER/NRTR—2007/102
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service
Publisher location Philadelphia, PA
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description ix, 27 p.
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