US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Surveillance of Nesting Birds, Studies In Avian Biology, No.43 pp. 119-134


Effective conservation strategies for grassland birds in agricultural landscapes require understanding how nesting success varies among different grassland habitats. A key component to this is identifying nest predators and how these predators vary by habitat. We quantified nesting activity of obligate grassland birds in three habitats [remnant prairie, cool-season grass Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields, and pastures) in southwest Wisconsin, 2002-2004. We determined nest predators using video cameras and examined predator activity using track stations. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) nested primarily in CRP fields, and Grasshopper Sparrow (A. savannarum) in remnant prairies. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) nested evenly across all three habitats. Daily nest survival rate for Eastern Meadowlark varied by nesting stage alone. Daily nest survival rate for Grasshopper Sparrow varied by nest vegetation and distance to the nearest woody edge; nest survival was higher near woody edges. In CRP fields, most predators were grassland-associated, primarily thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). In pastures, one-third of the nest predators were grassland-associated (primarily thirteen-lined ground squirrels) and 56% were associated with woody habitats (primarily raccoons, Procyon lotor). Raccoon activity was greatest around pastures and lowest around prairies; regardless of habitat, raccoon activity along woody edges was twice that along non-woody edges. Thirteen-lined ground squirrel activity was greater along prairie edges than pastures and was greater along nonwoody edges compared to woody edges. In CRP fields, raccoon activity was greater along edges compared to the interiors; for ground squirrels these relationships were reversed. Using video camera technology to identify nest predators was indispensable in furthering our understanding of the grassland system. The challenge is to use that knowledge to develop management actions for both birds and predators.