Skip to main content

Grassland bird population declines at three Breeding Bird Survey spatial scales in contrast to a large native prairie

Cite this dataset

Mahony, Nancy; Dale, Brenda; Miller, David (2022). Grassland bird population declines at three Breeding Bird Survey spatial scales in contrast to a large native prairie [Dataset]. Dryad.


Grassland biomes in North America are threatened by agricultural intensification with implications for grassland associated bird populations via habitat loss, alteration, pesticide use and declining landscape heterogeneity. Despite decades of conservation concern, steep declines of North American grassland bird populations continue. Key to optimizing conservation effort is understanding how land-use practices, such as agriculture, across the annual cycle affects population status. Determining the relative influence of impacts on grassland bird declines is difficult given that the most robust estimates of population trends, the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), are from surveys throughout agriculturally dominated regions. Our goal was to explore whether agriculture during the breeding season is a major driver of grassland bird declines. We derived trends for 16 grassland bird species spanning 23 years (1994-2016) at a large (459 km2), native prairie site, Suffield National Wildlife Area (SNWA) in Alberta, Canada.  We compared those trends to the BBS across three spatial scales, a regional monitoring scheme with higher than average native grass cover (GBM), BCR 11 - Canada (Canada) and all of BCR 11 (BCR 11). Trends measured as annual percent change and credible interval varied greatly among species and survey strata. Across all species, declines were greatest for Canada (-1.3%, CI: -2.8, 0.0) and BCR 11 (-1.9%, CI: -3.2, -0.6).  This contrasts with positive mean trends for GBM routes (1.0%, CI: -0.4, 2.3) and the SNWA data (1.7%, CI: 0.3, 3.3). Six of 16 species at SNWA were increasing with one decreasing. Five species increased at GBM and four declined. Canada had 10 species declines and three increases and BCR 11 had 10 declines and no increases. None of six grassland obligate species declined at SNWA, two declined at GBM, and all six declined over the two larger BBS strata. Our results showing fewer negative population trends at a large native grassland site compared to BBS at three spatial scales across the North American prairies support the prediction that agricultural intensification on breeding grounds is a major driver of declining populations and protection of remaining native grasslands should remain a key component of grassland bird conservation efforts.


Environment and Climate Change Canada