Surrogate grasslands established through federal set-aside programs, such as U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), provide important habitat for grassland birds. Warm season grass CRP fields as a group have the potential for providing a continuum of habitat structure for breeding birds, depending on how the fields are managed and their floristic composition. We studied the nesting activity of four obligate grassland bird species, Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), and Henslow's Sparrow (A. henslowii), in relation to vegetative composition and fire management in warm season CRP fields in southwest Wisconsin during 2009–2011. Intraspecific variation in apparent nest density was related to the number of years since the field was burned. Apparent Grasshopper Sparrow nest density was highest in the breeding season immediately following spring burns, apparent Henslow's Sparrow nest density was highest 1 y post burn, and apparent Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark nest densities were higher in post fire years one to three. Grasshopper Sparrow nest density was highest on sites with more diverse vegetation, specifically prairie forbs, and on sites with shorter less dense vegetation. Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, and Henslow's Sparrow apparent nest densities were higher on sites with deeper litter; litter was the vegetative component that was most affected by spring burns. Overall nest success was 0.487 for Bobolink (22 d nesting period), 0.478 for Eastern Meadowlark (25 d nesting period), 0.507 for Grasshopper Sparrow (22 d nesting period), and 0.151 for Henslow's Sparrow (21 d nesting period). The major nest predators were grassland-associated species: thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus), striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum), American badger (Taxidea taxus), and western fox snake (Elaphe vulpina). Overall depredation rate was not affected by the number of years since the site had been burned. The diversity of vegetation on warm season CRP fields created by management using fire provides a continuum of structure for obligate grassland birds to use for breeding and habitat for a diversity of nest predators.
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Vol. 178 • No. 1