Carolyn Schmitz, UW-Madison: Grassland bird nesting success in warm season Conservation Reserve Program fields in southwestern Wisconsin.

Carolyn Schmitz checking a camera.JPGIn a partnership between UW-Madison’s Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit (Professor Christine A. Ribic) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (David Sample, Bureau of Science Services) graduate student Carolyn Schmitz is investigating the nesting activity of grassland birds in native warm season grass communities on lands enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in southwestern Wisconsin.

Continent-wide, grassland bird populations have declined more than any other group of birds. Because of these declines, many grassland birds are of high conservation concern to the state of Wisconsin. An important part of grassland bird conservation is understanding the ways in which increasing the amount of perennial bioenergy? crops on the landscape will affect their nesting success.

The fields used in the study span a range of vegetation diversity, from switchgrass? monocultures to diverse prairie restorations. The study fields mimic the potential mixes of plant species that could be grown for biomass? production in Wisconsin. More than 300 bird nests have been found and monitored in two years of study. Using video cameras placed on a subset of nests, Carolyn and her research partners have been able to identify nest predators and record nesting behavior of the birds. Important nest predators of grassland birds are fox and milk snakes, 13-lined ground squirrels, and skunks.

Northerh Harrier Chicks 7 days old.JPG
Northern Harrier Chicks -- 7 days old

Preliminary results of Carolyn’s research suggest that a higher diversity of grassland birds, as well as more nests, are found in fields with greater vegetation diversity. The results of this study will improve understanding of the potential for managing perennial cropping systems to maximize production goals while also meeting grassland bird conservation goals.

This study was funded by the Wisconsin Focus on Energy program; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pittman-Robertson Act funds, and by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For more information contact Carolyn Schmitz:

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Carol Williams
(608) 890-3858 (office)
(515) 520-7494 (mobile)
Department of Agronomy
1575 Linden Dr.
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706

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Grassland buffers protect Wisconsin’s waterways from excess nutrient runoff from agriculture. Photo: Anonymous.