Stop! Look! And Listen!

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

winter, and they like to have a place to hunt turkeys in the spring or quail in the fall. These are important considerations and have been an integral part of managing the Whetstone Area since its acquisition.

However, the Conservation Department is responsible for all wildlife, including songbirds. These are among the most visible, the most vocal, and, for many people, the most enjoyable species of wildlife.

Different birds live in different habitats. Therefore, we use a variety of land management practices to create an array of habitat to benefit many bird species. These range from the open, low habitat of crop fields and grazed pasture to old fields to the multiple layers that exist in a mature woodland. If suitable habitat for a particular type of bird is present, usually that bird is present. As the habitat changes, so, too, does the composition and abundance of the bird community. The breeding bird survey is one of the tools we use to monitor the composition of Whetstone's bird community.

This is how the breeding bird survey works: Using a car or truck, I drive the roads that wind through the Whetstone Area. Every half mile I stop, turn off the engine, get out and listen for bird calls and look for birds for three minutes. I record each bird I see or hear on a clipboard and paper. There are 25 stops on the route, and it takes about three hours to run it.

This method is effective because the birds are breeding in the early summer, which means that many of them advertise their presence by singing loudly. I stop at the same places every year, making it possible to compare survey results from each stop year to year. It is especially interesting to look at long-term trends, to see which bird species were there in 1977, which have moved out, which have moved in, and which bird species are still present in 2003.

In the first few years of the survey, grassland birds were abundant on the Whetstone Area. I recorded high numbers of eastern meadowlarks, dickcissels, and grasshopper sparrows. Meadowlarks remained abundant through the 1980s, but their numbers began declining in the 1990s. There are still a few on Whetstone, but not many. Dickcissel numbers have also declined.

Grasshopper sparrows were numerous when cattle grazed the grass low to the ground. As the grass grew dense with

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