Managing Mixed-grass Prairies for Songbirds Using Variable Cattle Stocking Rates
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Most remaining grasslands are used for livestock grazing; stocking rates could be managed to help stop declining songbird populations. We examined the effects of stocking rates on grassland songbirds in northern mixed-grass prairies using a beyond Before-After-Control-Impact manipulative experiment in Canada’s Grasslands National Park and adjacent community pastures. The study area consisted of nine 300-ha pastures grazed at a range of stocking rates starting in 2008. We conducted songbird surveys at six upland plots in each pasture from 2006‒2010, and measured vegetation structure within each plot from 2008‒2010 (n = 54). We evaluated the effects of stocking rates on habitat structure and songbird abundance using linear and generalized linear mixed models. Baird’s sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii) relative abundance declined with increasing stocking rates. Chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus) relative abundance increased only at higher stocking rates indicating a possible threshold effect. Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) relative abundance decreased with stocking rates above 0.4 AUM after a year of grazing. Sprague’s pipit (Anthus spragueii) relative abundance declined with grazing, but the effect was weak and only significant in one year. Western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) abundance was unaffected by grazing. Stocking rates may be used to benefit grassland songbirds and may alter avian communities after as little as one month of livestock grazing. Applying a range of stocking rates regionally may provide habitat for many species.