Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

photo by Janene Lichtenberg



Abby N. Powell

Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

More than 90% of tallgrass prairie in the midwest and Great Plains has been lost, and remaining prairies are typically fragmented. Large areas of mixed-grass prairie remain but are used as rangelands. Alterations of the Great Plains grassland landscape were precipitated by the conversion of prairie to cropland and pasture, the removal or disappearance of native ungulates, drainage of wetlands, and an increase in woody vegetation through plantings and fire suppression. Changes in landuse have continued in recent years, with higher proportions of croplands, and decreases in hayfields, wetlands, and native grasslands. These patterns of grassland loss and fragmentation have resulted in changes in the abundance and distribution of grassland-associated vertebrates. Over the past 25 years, USGS Breeding Bird Survey data indicate that almost 70% of the 29 grassland bird species adequately surveyed showed evidence of declining populations. In 1997, the National Park Service (NPS) identified grassland birds as a high- priority research need within the Central Region of the national park system.

Within the Great Plains region, the NPS manages land that includes tallgrass and mixed-grass prairie habitats. Grassland habitats in these parks range from large, intact tracts to small, degraded fragments. Resource managers may not be aware of the impacts of their management regimes (such as grazing by native and domestic vertebrates and prescribed fire) on breeding grassland bird communites. In addition, the status of grassland birds on these and other lands managed by the NPS is largely unknown. The development of a long-term monitoring program for grassland birds was identified as a need by the NPS to monitor population trends. Information on current status and trends is essential for making informed decisions to protect and restore grassland bird populations.

We are providing baseline presence/absence and abundance data on the grassland birds breeding in Great Plains national parks. The parks included in this study are mixed- grass prairie: Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND), Badlands National Park (SD), Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (NE), and Scott's Bluff National Monument (NE) and tallgrass prairie: Wilson's Creek National Battlefield (MO), Homestead National Monument (NE), Pipestone National Monument (MN), and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (KS). Bird surveys were completed at tallgrass prairie parks in 1998 and in mixed-grass parks in 1999.

Products to date:

Lichtenberg, Janene S., and Abby N. Powell. 2000. Avian inventory of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas. Report to National Park Service,Midwest Regional Office, Omaha, NE.

Powell, A.N. 2000. Grassland bird inventory of seven prairie parks. Final Report to the Great Plains Prairie Cluster Long-Term Ecological Monitoring Program, National Park Service, Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, Republic, Missouri. 46 p.


photo by Abby Powell


last modified 10/27/00