Across North America, birds that depend on grasslands are in steeper decline than most other groups of birds. Nearly 60% of Canada’s grassland birds have disappeared since 1970.
The Chestnut-collared Longspur, for example, is a species that has seen a staggering loss of approximately 95% of its population in Canada. The majority of Baird’s Sparrows rely on Canadian grasslands for their breeding grounds, but over 50% of their population has been lost since 1970. The main reason for this decline is the ongoing degradation and loss of grassland habitats. On the northern Great Plains an acre of grassland is lost every minute. But, losses aren’t just happening to our native prairie habitats. They are also occurring widely in human-created agricultural grasslands like pastures and hayfields in eastern North America.
Birds Canada staff have been working on a variety of research and monitoring projects, and helping provincial, national, and international government and non-government agencies create conservation strategies. Conservation of grassland birds depends almost entirely on stewardship from private landowners, especially farmers and ranchers, on breeding and wintering grounds.
Canada’s farmers and ranchers are guardians of the temperate grassland, the world’s most endangered ecosystem. The rich biodiversity of North America’s Great Plains evolved with millions of grazing bison. With the absence of free roaming bison, responsibly managed cattle serve as the large grazers that keep the prairie ecosystem healthy and provide habitat for grassland birds. Grazing produces different structures and plant compositions within the grasslands, and birds respond to exploit the many subtly different niches: no fewer than 12 species are found in the Great Plains and nowhere else, and this bird group is disappearing faster than any other on our continent.
Dedicated studies, such as Long-billed Curlew satellite tracking in British Columbia, are helping us understand migratory connectivity of grassland birds. We’re adapting the Bird-friendliness Index to Canadian working landscapes to help land managers evaluate their properties so that they can adapt their management to help birds and biodiversity thrive. For example, cattle producers now can choose to have the Bird-friendliness Index measured on their farms and ranches to fulfill a portion of the requirements needed to become certified by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
Photo: Pete Davidson
In addition to research and monitoring projects, Birds Canada has also produced a Grasslands Conservation Incentives Guide for prairie landowners. This guide compiles the financial incentives and other programs available to preserve, enhance, or restore Prairie habitats across the prairies, into a one-stop source of information. This guide will make it easier for landowners and producers to access these programs and take conservation action.
To complement the Incentives Guide, Birds Canada has also produced a Climate and Biodiversity Friendly Production Practices Resource Guide. This resource guide has 30 resources that farmers and landowners can utilize to help them implement practices on their land that will improve carbon sequestration, as well as provide and enhance habitats for grassland birds and all grassland biodiversity.
For further reading on grassland birds, and the Grasslands Conservation Incentives Guide please see this recent article in the Western Producer. Learn more about why the Grasslands Conservation Incentives Guide was created, how livestock producers are powerful allies for grasslands birds, and how your purchasing decisions can help grasslands and prairie birds. Are you concerned about climate change and the loss of our biodiversity? This article by Dr. Silke Nebel examines how beef consumption and a well managed cattle industry can save some of our most threatened species of birds.
In the Canadian Prairies, conservation professionals and cattle producers are standing firmly on the same side of the fence. Birds Canada is committed to the protection of grassland birds through science, advocacy, partnerships and on the ground conservation.
Please check back regularly for updates on Birds Canada’s work in the grasslands and for updated versions of the Grasslands Conservation Incentives Guide.
For more information, contact:
Ian Cook, Grassland Conservation Manager