Thursday, June 30, 2016

Grassland Birds

Of all the groups of birds that are seeing a decline in their populations, one of the most worrisome is the grassland birds. Many of our native prairie species are becoming less and less common as the years pass.

Fortunately one location in my county has a nice variety of prairie birds that are dependable for showing up year after year. Some of these birds used to be common birds around the family farms but aren't any more. I was lucky enough to see a few of these species recently.
 A favorite grassland bird of mine is the Meadowlark. Always a great sign of spring as they show up on local prairies. We get both eastern and western varieties here and the easiest way to ID them is to hear them sing. Western Meadowlarks are more "melodious" in their song.
 A species that is more hit and miss is the Dickcissel. It seems that when we see one we see many everywhere we look. Other years they are few and far between. This year is a good year for Dickcissels but not quite as good as a few years back when there was a report of the species in every county in Minnesota (that's 87 total), even up in the northeast part of the state that is more know as a pine and lake region.
Perhaps though, my true love of all the prairie species is the Bobolink. In some regions it's been called the "skunk" bird because of the color pattern it displays. Their plumage certainly looks "backward" when compared to most species. It is the brightly colored back and their wonderful flight song that make these birds make my heart race a bit when I first hear them in the spring. True neotropical migrants, these guys have tremendous site fidelity when it come to their nest sites. During banding we have caught the same bird on the same little hill two years in a row. Really mind blowing when you think that they had a journey of thousands of miles in between the nesting seasons.

Go out, walk a prairie. Plant some native plants. Listen for the early morning chorus in a grassland. Try to find the native sparrow, be it Grasshopper, Henslow's or Savannah that blends in so well with the terrain. While summer may seem to be a "down" time for birding it's a great time to discover life in the grasslands.

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