Nature Lab

By Dianne Van Dien | May 1, 2023
From Missouri Conservationist: May 2023

Resource Management

Grassland Bird Surveys

Grassland-dependent species in North America are drastically declining, mainly due to habitat loss. Since most of Missouri’s historical grasslands and prairies are now used for agriculture, MDC strives to preserve and restore the grasslands in its care and assists private landowners who want to do the same on their lands. To help measure grassland health, MDC began working with the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) in 2013 to survey grassland birds on MDC lands and on partnering private lands.

“We’re keeping our fingers on the pulse of the grasslands with these monitoring projects,” says MRBO co-Director Dana Ripper. “Birds are dependent on healthy landscapes and insect abundance and can be seen as an indicator species and as an umbrella species. That makes our survey information applicable for adaptive grassland management.”

When conducting surveys, MRBO staff walk transect lines across the properties while watching and listening for birds. They record their sightings directly into mobile devices.

“We want to map exactly where the birds are,” explains MRBO co-Director Ethan Duke. “Through the ESRI Field Maps app, our data is placed onto maps. This gives us a highly efficient mode of data collection that is highly accurate for estimating distances.”

This method, called line-transect distance sampling, is coupled with statistical software to estimate the number of birds per 100 acres.

To help evaluate habitat quality, MRBO also developed something they call “bird-friendliness scores.” The scores are calculated from the analyzed survey data for species’ abundance, diversity, and density along with level of conservation concern.

“The scores serve as a big umbrella perspective for land managers to understand how a particular property is contributing to the grassland bird population,” Ripper says.

Grassland Bird Surveys at a Glance

The Missouri River Bird Observatory partners with MDC to survey grassland birds on MDC lands and those of interested private landowners. Information about bird populations helps managers adjust their management practices to meet their conservation goals.

Focal grassland bird species in Missouri include:

  1. Eastern meadowlark
  2. Northern bobwhite
  3. Grasshopper sparrow
  4. Henslow’s sparrow
  5. Dickcissel
  6. Bobolink
  7. Upland sandpiper
  8. Loggerhead shrike

Also In This Issue

This Issue's Staff

Magazine Manager - Stephanie Thurber
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Associate Editor - Larry Archer
Photography Editor - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Staff Writer – Dianne Van Dien
Designer - Shawn Carey
Designer - Marci Porter
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Circulation - Laura Scheuler