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!
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.
With over 70% of landownership in the Great Plains and Intermountain West being privately owned, landowners are one of the keys to conservation of wildlife habitat. Many at-risk bird species use private lands during their annual life-cycle. Our Private Lands Wildlife biologists work assist landowners in navigating the complex process for securing funding for management plans, habitat enhancements, and infrastructure improvements on working lands through USDA Farm Bill. By targeting the specific needs of local stakeholders and geographic areas, we not only make funding more accessible, but we use the resources more efficiently to ensure conservation is happening where it’s needed most.
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies researchers are developing a network of automated radio telemetry stations to study the movement of grassland birds. This work will help fill in missing information about where these birds go during migration, and will ultimately help managers better conserve important grasslands for the birds to use into the future.
The cultural heritage of those that tend the land and call it home—from ranchers to Indigenous Peoples to ejidos—is closely tied to the fate of grasslands. Rural communities and economies depend on healthy grasslands and the services they provide which include aquifer recharge, productive rangelands, outdoor recreation and more. Despite their importance, the plight of grasslands has been largely overlooked, but a new initiative has launched which aims to chart a better future for this precious resource.
Little is known about grassland birds during migration. Automated radio telemetry through the Motus Wildlife Tracking System can help us understand bird movement during this part of their life cycle. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is implementing a three-phase, multiyear project to expand the Motus network into the Great Plains and Chihuahuan Desert, installing receiving stations along avian flyways to capture vital data and fill knowledge gaps.
Grassland bird populations are declining and the majority of species are understudied on their wintering grounds. In the winter of 2020, we implemented a regional monitoring program in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas to establish baseline population estimates of grassland birds. We surveyed on a number of expansive cattle ranches, each exhibiting fascinating ecological and management histories. Through the implementation of this program, we can share that collaboration between ranching operations and grassland bird conservation is mutually beneficial.
The grassland ecosystem of North America is home to some of the fastest-declining species of birds. Sustainable ranching practices are a vital part of the grasslands story — past, present, and future. That’s why Bird Conservancy of the Rockies invests in land stewardship efforts on working lands. Together with private landowners, we are partnering to conserve, restore and revitalize healthy prairie landscapes for the benefit of people and wildlife communities across the Great Plains.
The Sprague’s Pipit is a charismatic songbird of North American grasslands. If you’ve ever wandered the Northern Great Plains in summer, you’ve probably heard their sweet song, and maybe even seen their high-altitude aerial displays which can last for hours. One of many fast-declining grassland bird species, we’re urgently working to learn more about the life cycle of the Sprague’s Pipit so that its song can continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.