Project Prairie Birds

Description

Southern grasslands are the primary destination for more than a dozen species of Nearctic migratory grassland birds. However, there are large gaps in information concerning winter distribution, habitat requirements and population changes in this group of nationally-recognized declining species.  The pilot project area for Project Prairie Birds (PPB) in 1998-1999 was the Upper Texas Coast.  This is home to the largest urban area in the state of Texas, an area of exponential human growth and development. For example, the greater Houston area once contained extensive prairie habitat, but it is rapidly disappearing. The goal of this program was to facilitate the collection of important data that will be included in the Partners in Flight planning process.

Project objectives are to: (1) determine area-distribution of priority grassland species, (2) identify habitat preferences for target species, (3) utilize data to develop land management guidelines and recommendations for conservation planning, and (4) give concerned citizens a project toward which they can contribute their efforts.

The monitoring method consists of flush transects 100m long. Three participants use light-weight poles to form the survey line about 20m wide.  Walking slowly in a line and brushing the vegetation with the poles flushes the secretive grassland birds, allowing identification and counts.

Strengths

This method allows for flush transects in grass habitats with small shrubs and trees where rope dragging would be impractical.  The use of poles for flushing also reduces the number of required personnel while maximizing the area covered in a sample.    

Weaknesses

It is difficult to identify small birds as they flush out of the grass and dive into a different patch of grass.  The flight patterns of these birds can help, as described on the website, but accurate identification requires practice and expertise.

Examples of use

Texas wintering Henslow’s Sparrow report. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/birding/project_prairie_birds/

For more information

See http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/birding/project_prairie_birds/ for full information and methods including winter sparrow identification tips.