To determine the benefits to grassland birds of converting cropland to hayland in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, we quantified the relative nest abundance and success of grassland nesting birds in haylands and the influence landscape variables have on these parameters. We found nests of 26 species of grassland nesting birds, primarily waterfowl and vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus). With the exception of the northern pintail (Anas acuta), few nesting attempts were recorded for species of high priority in the Prairie Pothole Bird Conservation Region. Mayfield nest success for all waterfowl (20 and 13% in 1999 and 2000, respectively) was high relative to previously reported nest success estimates in other habitat types—especially spring-seeded cropland—and was near levels thought to be required to sustain populations (15–20%). Vesper sparrow nest success (39 and 33% in 1999 and 2000, respectively) also was high relative to that reported in other studies. Haying destroyed few nests as wet weather delayed operations in 1999 and 2000. More nests may be destroyed by haying in other years as approximately 25% of nests in this study were still active on the long-term average haying date for southern Saskatchewan. Among models we developed to explain waterfowl relative nest abundance, amount of cropland in the surrounding landscape and field area were the most informative. Evidence that a specific set of landscape variables was important to models of waterfowl nest success was equivocal. Landscape variables did not explain variation in vesper sparrow relative nest abundance or nest success. Within our study area, conversion of cropland to hayland appears to provide significant benefits to a variety of grassland species, including some species of high conservation priority (e.g., northern pintail). Grassland species of conservation concern nested less frequently in hayland than in native grassland.
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Vol. 69 • No. 1