Grassland Birds

Grassland Bird Conservation

Grassland birds are showing some of the most significant declines of any group in North America, and New Hampshire is no exception. While widespread species like Bobolink and Savanna Sparrow remain common (but still declining), all other species are of conservation concern. NH Audubon has a long history of grassland bird work in the state, starting with monitoring our only population of state-endangered Upland Sandpipers at the Pease Airport in 1990, followed by more broad surveys in the late 1990s.

Much of our current work focuses on two state-threatened species: Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark. We have been monitoring Grasshopper Sparrows consistently since the early 2000s, with much of the early work at Concord Airport. As result of these periodic surveys, we estimate that the statewide population is 30-40 pairs at 8-10 sites. Eastern Meadowlark was only listed as threatened in 2017, and in 2021 we partnered with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies to conduct a two-state “blitz” for this species. The results were sobering in NH: I estimate that the state supports fewer than 30 pairs at roughly 25 sites.

All grassland birds are threatened by habitat loss and management practices that make it difficult for birds to breed successfully. At airfields, periodic mowing is required for safety reasons, while in hayfields it’s needed to obtain quality forage for livestock. Either way, mowing during the breeding season is a surefire way to destroy nests or young, and conservation biologists regularly need to balance these economic interests with those of the birds we’re trying to protect. One way to accomplish this is through targeted outreach to landowners, which NH Audubon and our partners initiated in the Upper Valley region in 2013. We are also a partner in the Bobolink Project, a multi-state effort to pay farmers to delay mowing during the peak breeding season. Finally, regular surveys at airports and other public sites provide the information necessary to propose changes to management where appropriate. For grassland birds to persist in the state, such targeted management is critical, and NH Audubon is committed to keeping such options on the table.

Links and Articles of Interest

Photos: Bobolink, by Pam Hunt (top); Eastern Meadowlark, by Pam Hunt (circle).