National Park Service


Date of this Version



Natural Resource Report NPS/HTLN/NRR—2020/2072 / NPS 031/166746, February 2020: vi, 61 pages

Editing and design by Tani Hubbard

Published by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Natural Resource Stewardship and Science, Fort Collins, Colorado

Also available at:

Please cite this publication as:

Peitz, D. G., and K. A. Kull. 2020. Bird community monitoring at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas: Status report 2001–2018. Natural Resource Report NPS/HTLN/NRR—2020/2072. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.


United States government work. Public domain material.


Executive Summary

In 2001, the Heartland I&M Network initiated breeding bird surveys on Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Kansas, to assess the ecological integrity of the preserve’s habitat. Birds are an important component of ecosystems and can serve as good indicators of habitat change in an ecosystem. In the 17 years of bird surveys at the preserve (2001 to 2018, excluding 2003), there were 2,089 plot visits and 119 different bird species recorded, 96 of which have the potential to breed within the preserve. These 96 species represent approximately 81% of the total species one would reasonably expect to have breeding populations on the preserve. Thirteen breeding species and four other species are considered species of conservation concern for the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie Bird Conservation Region, the region in which the preserve is located. Nine breeding species and four migrant species on the preserve are grassland obligates.

Eighteen bird species in upland tallgrass prairie habitat, and nine in riparian habitat, were recorded in sufficient numbers to calculate annual abundances and population trends. The populations of two upland species, Dickcissel and Mourning Dove, and three riparian species, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Tufted Titmouse, significantly increased since 2001 when monitoring began. Killdeer, Lark Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Upland Sandpiper, and Western Meadowlark populations significantly declined in the upland habitat. All other species in both habitats had stable or undetectable population trends.

Population trends for Barn Swallows, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Brown Thrashers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Greater Prairie-chickens, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Western Meadowlarks in the upland habitat mirrored trends reported by Sauer et al. (2014 ) for the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie Bird Conservation Region. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Dickcissel, Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, and Red-bellied Woodpecker populations in riparian habitat also mirrored regional trends. Trend results for the remaining common species in both habitats were less clear. Either a species population trend for the preserve was positive or negative, and the corresponding population trend for the region straddled zero, or the opposite was true.

The thirteen resident species on Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve that are species of conservation concern for the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie Bird Conservation Region should be given special consideration in natural resource management decisions. With 94.7% of the preserve in tallgrass prairie habitat, managing this habitat for the nine breeding grassland obligate species is of high importance as well. By doing so, management would also benefit a host of other grassland species, such as the Eastern Kingbird, Northern Bobwhite, and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Four grassland obligate species observed in sufficient numbers to calculate annual abundances are also species of conservation concern: Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Upland Sandpiper. Therefore, these four species offer the best opportunity to track the effectiveness of management actions on conserving species in peril, and their needs should be given the highest consideration in management decisions.

Comparing management philosophies between earlier (2001 through 2005) and later years (2006 through 2018) on the preserve helps to explain some of the bird trends observed. The number of hectares burned annually declined between the earlier and later years, as did the stocking rates of cattle. The early higher intensity management actions created habitat with shorter and sparser vegetation favored by Killdeer, Lark Sparrows, Upland Sandpipers, and Western Meadowlarks, whereas the later management practices produced taller and denser vegetation and more grass litter favored by Dickcissels, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, Greater Prairie-chickens, Henslow’s Sparrows, and Upland Sandpipers.

This report provides current regional and local trends for breeding birds for future comparisons with bird data collected as part of the long-term monitoring efforts at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This report also documents shifts in habitat characteristics resulting from changes in management philosophies. With this report, preserve staff can better account for the potential effects of management actions on breeding birds. Monitoring data also provide preserve staff with additional information useful for interpreting birds, an important natural resource on the preserve.