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Ecology of the Shortgrass SteppeA Long-Term Perspective$
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W. K. Lauenroth and I. C. Burke

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195135824

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195135824.001.0001

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Birds of the Shortgrass Steppe

Birds of the Shortgrass Steppe

(p.181) 9 Birds of the Shortgrass Steppe
Ecology of the Shortgrass Steppe

John A. Wiens

Nancy E. McIntyre

Oxford University Press

Birds are part of the special magic of grasslands. Birds such as McCown’s Longspurs (scientific names are given in the Appendix) or Horned Larks, which seem to disappear against the background of grass, soil, and stones when they are on the ground, launch breathtaking courtship flights punctuated by tinkling songs and mothlike flutterings. Male Lark Buntings, incongruously black and white (Fig. 9.1A) against the subdued tones of the grassland, may break into their morning territorial displays or gather together spontaneously in melodious group choruses. Mountain Plovers may burst from underfoot into utterly convincing broken-wing distraction displays. Ferruginous and other hawks (Fig. 9.1B) may suddenly plummet from the blue skies above. Sightings of relatively rare species such as Chestnut-collared Longspurs (Fig. 9.1C) may bring joy to dedicated bird-watchers. Birds give the shortgrass steppe an aura that Bouteloua alone cannot. Yet birds have not figured importantly in most discussions of grassland ecology. They are generally drab and brownish, so they have not attracted much attention from the general public, and their contributions to ecosystem production and energy flow are small, so they have not been of much interest to ecologists studying ecosystem processes. However, grassland birds are showing the most widespread and consistent population declines of any group of North American birds (Herkert, 1995; Knopf, 1994; Peterjohn and Sauer, 1999). As a consequence, they have become a focus of conservation concern (Brennen and Kulvesky, 2005; Vickery and Herkert, 2001). The history of ornithological research in the shortgrass steppe is closely intertwined with the broadly interdisciplinary work conducted during the IBP in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and more recently (since 1982) as part of the NSF LTER program. In this chapter we describe the birds of the shortgrass steppe and summarize pertinent research that has been conducted on them during the past 40+ years. Our aim is to synthesize this information to provide a perspective on how environmental factors may relate to population fluctuations, on spatiotemporal shifts in community composition, and on patterns of habitat occupancy among the birds of the shortgrass steppe. We conclude by noting some continuing research priorities that have become more critical as conservation concerns about these birds have heightened.

Keywords:   Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Ferruginous hawks, Grassland Biome, Hawks, Lark Bunting, Mountain Plovers, Plovers, Raptors, Sparrows

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