In winter, many of North America’s grassland birds inhabit remote and unpopulated areas within the Chihuahuan Desert of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. For this reason, much of the nonbreeding period of grassland birds remains a mystery to bird researchers and conservationists. Unfortunately, many grassland species are steeply declining and the lack of knowledge on these species and their habitats during the nonbreeding season can pose significant challenges for conservation. Until we identify and understand the struggles and needs of nonbreeding grassland birds, population declines are likely to continue. Conservation strategies backed by science are key to ensuring that grasslands persist so that the birds that inhabit them can survive the winter and return safely to the breeding grounds to sing or sit on a nest again.
Knapweed is a common pest on disturbed land, and as a perennial plant that can reproduce both by seed and creeping roots, it is a very successful invader. This sort of creeping perennial is very difficult to get rid of even with more active control methods, like herbicides. Biotic control is an alternative strategy that may increase effective weed suppression. Gall wasps lay their eggs inside the knapweed, forming stem galls on young knapweed plants, which slow the plant’s growth, diverting nutrients from flowers and seeds. Using gall wasps as biotic control, we aim to reduce the spread of knapweed and give native species a better opportunity to compete. Restoring disturbed land is a long-term endeavor, but it has to start somewhere, and gall wasps are just one piece of the puzzle in restoring Eastern Colorado rangelands.
In a world filled with uncertainty, jam-packed schedules and unrealistic expectations, we and our children deserve a place where we can find solace and peace. For many of us, that place is in nature. Unfortunately, many of today’s children don’t have access to safe, natural spaces. At Bird Conservancy, we want to change that by offering a variety of opportunities where families can connect with each other and the outdoors. One way we do this is through our Family and Homeschool Programs. Each month, families come together at our Environmental Learning Center (ELC) at Barr Lake State Park to learn, play and spend quality time together. One month we may go birding by canoe; the next, we may learn all about raptors or create nature art. No matter the topic, curiosity and smiles abound!
Grasslands contribute to the air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we enjoy, and landscapes we love to explore. They offer natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, even as they feed millions and support the livelihoods of rural communities. They help purify our world by capturing water and carbon in the soil and deep underground, mitigating undesirable events like climate change, wildfire and severe drought. Despite all this, grasslands are underappreciated by many. Read on to learn more about why grasslands are important to our world, and what you can do to help ensure their conservation for future generations!
Every year during spring and fall, billions of birds across North America migrate between their breeding grounds and wintering grounds. The vast majority of these birds migrate primarily at night, using the night sky to navigate. However, much of the night sky throughout the United States experiences some degree of light pollution from our cities, disorienting birds and leading to exhaustion and death. Luckily, there are several simple and easy solutions to the problem of light pollution that all of us can help achieve!
Bird Conservancy runs many scientific, educational, and outreach programs that promote birds and their habitats and inspire people’s love of nature, and we are proud of the impact we have on our communities. In one year alone, we enhanced over 29,000 acres across six states, reached almost 6,000 participants through virtual outreach opportunities, and monitored one million acres to determine bird responses to management and restoration efforts. But none of these programs would be successful without our talented and dedicated staff. In this post, we highlight one employee who works behind the scenes year-round to implement one of the largest breeding bird monitoring programs in North America – Matthew McLaren, the coordinator for the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program at Bird Conservancy. He’s been a dedicated member of our organization since 2011, and he’s “what makes IMBCR work year in and year out.”
Decisions we make every day can help birds. Over half of the people who live in the U.S. drink coffee, but few understand the environmental impacts of growing it. Many of our favorite migratory bird species— including warblers, tanagers, ovenbirds and thrushes—spend their winters in coffee-growing landscapes in the tropics. Understanding sustainable coffee growing practices helps us become better consumers and make choices that benefit birds, the habitats they rely on, and coffee producers!
Northern Bobwhite quail are an important species in the plains and the eastern United States, known for their characteristic whistle, their habit of gathering in groups (known as coveys) and their white and black faces that peek out through the shrubby habitats they call home. While other game birds fly south for the winter, these short stout birds stay put. Bobwhites are indicators of rangeland health, and their presence often indicates that land managers are taking the health of the land into consideration when implementing agricultural practices. They are a charismatic species, and habitat protection and enhancements that target Bobwhites also benefit numerous other grassland species. Agricultural producers take great pride in the health of their lands, and knowing they have an iconic species like the bobwhite on their land gives them as much joy as it gives us in observing them in the field.
Bird Conservancy and our partners spent much of 2021 implementing the first phase of a network of bird tracking stations across the Great Plains. It’s been an exhilarating, exhausting and rewarding year installing Motus stations at amazing places across central Flyway. We worked closely many partners, put 18 new Motus stations on the map, planned future sites, and watched as our towers detect tagged birds! The work continues with Motus stations installed throughout the Rocky Mountain West and northern Mexico, coupled with training opportunities for partners and deployment of over 100 radio tags on grassland birds.
As Thanksgiving is right around the corner, let’s reflect on Wild Turkeys, the habitats they call home, and how we can help conserve them. Wild Turkeys can be found in all of the lower 48 states, but in the early 1900’s this was not the case; turkey populations were nearly depleted due to poaching and habitat loss. Once conservationists began to focus on habitat restoration and reintroduction to areas where turkeys were formerly extirpated, populations began to bounce back. Unfortunately, we are beginning to see a slight decline in Wild Turkey populations again today, and Bird Conservancy is working with private landowners to improve habitat for Wild Turkeys and other forest inhabitants. This Thanksgiving we are thankful for all of the private landowners and partners who have worked with us to improve wildlife habitat!