Grazing and Songbird Nest Survival in Southwestern Saskatchewan

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Grassland songbird populations are declining, and one reason for this might be livestock management practices in native prairies. Although cattle grazing is a common practice in native mixed-grass prairie, little research has been conducted to date to determine its impact on prairie songbird nest survival. During the summers of 2006-2007, we examined the effects of low- to moderate-intensity cattle grazing typical of the region and nest site vegetation structure on nest survival of five species of ground-nesting songbirds in native mixed-grass prairie in southwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. There was no significant effect of grazing (P > 0.10) on Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii), Baird's sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus), lark bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys), or chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus) nest survival. All five species used denser vegetation than was generally available (P ≤ 0.001). Sprague's pipit nest survival was negatively correlated with vegetation density (P=0.055) and litter depth (P=0.033), and vesper sparrow nest survival was positively correlated with increased visibility from above (P=0.056), but nest survival of the other species was independent of vegetation structure. Our results suggest that low- to moderate-intensity grazing is consistent with the conservation needs of ground-nesting songbirds in mixed-grass prairies of southwestern Saskatchewan.

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