The majority of native prairie has been lost throughout North America. Much of the remaining prairie is used for livestock grazing, so conservation of prairie species depends on sustainable grazing practices. Our objective was to evaluate the benefits of twice-over rotational grazing, in comparison with continuous season-long grazing and ungrazed “idle” fields, in conserving prairie songbirds. Northern mixed-grass prairie in southwest Manitoba, Canada is near the northern range limits for many endangered grassland birds, and thus is an important area for evaluating the contribution of twice-over grazing in the conservation of songbirds, including species at risk. In 2008 and 2009, we compared the relative abundances and diversity of grassland birds on 22 twice-over rotation, 15 season-long, and 8 ungrazed sites, using multiple 100-m fixed-radius point-count plots per site. Analyses were conducted using generalized linear mixed models. Although one obligate grassland bird, Savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), had significantly higher relative abundances on twice-over than season-long sites in 2009, season-long pastures had higher species richness and diversity of obligate grassland birds in both years. Season-long grazing may actually benefit grassland bird communities by creating spatially heterogeneous but temporally stable areas of high and low livestock use within the pasture, thus increasing diversity of microhabitats. We found little evidence that twice-over grazing contributed to the conservation of grassland songbirds in subhumid northern mixed-grass prairies.
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Vol. 65 • No. 2