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Protecting Grassland Birds on Private Lands

A Landowner Incentive Program Habitat Protection Project

There is currently no open enrollment period for the Landowner Incentive Program: Grassland Habitat Protection Project.

Grasslands are one of the most important and imperiled habitats across our state. These dynamic habitats are home to a significant community of bird species, including the endangered Short-eared Owl and the threatened Henslow's Sparrow and Upland Sandpiper, contributing significantly to the biodiversity of our state. Due to changing land-use patterns, natural vegetative succession, and development, grasslands are fragmenting and disappearing.

Target Grassland Bird At-Risk Species

NY Natural Heritage Rank1

NYS Status Breeding Wintering Percent Annual Change
Northern Harrier S3 Threatened X X -2.5
Upland Sandpiper S3 Threatened X -6.3
Short-eared Owl S2 Endangered X X
Horned Lark Special Concern X X -5.1
Sedge Wren S3 Threatened X
Vesper Sparrow Special Concern X -8.5
Grasshopper Sparrow S4 Special Concern X -9.0
Henslow's Sparrow S4 Threatened X -14.7
Bobolink S5 not listed* X -0.3
Eastern Meadowlark S5 not listed* X -5.0
Savannah Sparrow S5 not listed* X -2.4

Footnote 1: Natural Heritage Program Status:

S2: Typically 6 to 20 occurrences; few remaining individuals, acres, or miles of stream, or factors demonstrably making it very vulnerable in New York State.
S3: Typically 21 to 100 occurrences; limited acreage or miles of stream in New York State.
S4: Apparently secure in New York State.
S5: Demonstrably secure in New York State.

* Although these species are native grassland birds that are fairly widespread and abundant in New York, they are still included as target species due to significant population declines in recent years and because they share similar grassland habitat as the more threatened species.

Facts About Habitat Loss

  • Habitat loss and degradation have resulted in sharp declines in grassland bird populations in New York since 1966, according to Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data.
  • The net result has been an astounding 80-99% decline in abundance of each species in just four decades.
  • These species, especially Henslow's Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, and Eastern Meadowlark are area-dependent species, meaning that they need large unbroken expanses of grasslands to thrive and reproduce.

How much grassland habitat do these species need? The answer to this question is unclear and appears to depend on several other factors such as:

  • location
  • shape
  • surrounding habitats
  • vegetative composition

However, as a general rule, grasslands need to be at least twenty-five acres in size to offer appropriate habitat for at-risk grassland birds in New York.

The importance of grasslands to our native avian fauna is clear. It is not too late in New York to save our best remaining grasslands, and perhaps to revert some marginal fields into high-quality habitat for grassland birds. The DEC recognizes the assistance provided by Audubon New York, a recognized authority in ornithology and habitat conservation, in establishing this program.

More about Protecting Grassland Birds on Private Lands :

  • Contact for this Page
    Bureau of Wildlife
    625 Broadway
    Albany NY, 12233-4754
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