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Breeding Biology of Grassland Birds in Western New York: Conservation and Management Implications

DOI: 10.5751/ace-00399-050203

Keywords: Bobolink , breeding biology , conservation , Eastern Meadowlark , grassland birds , management , Northeast , Savannah Sparrow.

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Abstract:

Declining grassland breeding bird populations have led to increased efforts to assess habitat quality, typically by estimating density or relative abundance. Because some grassland habitats may function as ecological traps, a more appropriate metric for determining quality may be breeding success. Between 1994 and 2003 we gathered data on the nest fates of Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna), Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorous), and Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) in a series of fallow fields and pastures/hayfields in western New York State. We calculated daily survival probabilities using the Mayfield method, and used the logistic-exposure method to model effects of predictor variables on nest success. Nest survival probabilities were 0.464 for Eastern Meadowlarks (n = 26), 0.483 for Bobolinks (n = 91), and 0.585 for Savannah Sparrows (n = 152). Fledge dates for first clutches ranged between 14 June and 23 July. Only one obligate grassland bird nest was parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater), for an overall brood parasitism rate of 0.004. Logistic-exposure models indicated that daily nest survival probabilities were higher in pastures/hayfields than in fallow fields. Our results, and those from other studies in the Northeast, suggest that properly managed cool season grassland habitats in the region may not act as ecological traps, and that obligate grassland birds in the region may have greater nest survival probabilities, and lower rates of Brown-headed Cowbird parasitism, than in many parts of the Midwest.

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