The Botteri's Sparrow (Aimophila botterii) is a bird of tall grasslands that temporarily disappeared from Arizona following heavy livestock grazing in the 1890s. Its return was noted first in sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii), an uncommon native floodplain tallgrass often >2 m in height, and subsequently in stands of exotic lovegrasses (Eragrostis spp.) spreading into adjacent uplands that otherwise supported shorter native grasslands. We examined whether the exotic grasslands provided suitable breeding habitat for Botteri's Sparrows, compared to native grasslands. We counted birds for three years on 18 plots, monitored 314 nests on 323 home ranges, banded 583 birds, and measured vegetation on plots and home ranges, and at nests and fledgling locations. Abundance and site fidelity were positively associated with grass height and cover, being greatest in sacaton, intermediate in exotics, and lowest in native upland grasslands. The three habitats did not differ in young fledged per capita. Vegetation cover on Botteri's Sparrow home ranges did not differ from the surrounding available habitat, but locations of flightless recently fledged young included taller and more dense vegetation than either nest sites or random locations, especially in sparsely vegetated native grasslands. These results suggest that fledglings required substantial cover to avoid predation while they completed development. Far from being an ecological trap, the exotic lovegrasses apparently are providing essential cover for the Botteri's Sparrow in Arizona, perhaps allowing it to regain an abundance similar to what existed regionally prior to overgrazing of the late 19th Century.
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Vol. 107 • No. 4