For a compilation of information on species’ habitat needs and responses to management practices, visit the Partners in Flight Species Management Synthesis.
Grassland birds are associated with habitats that include native natural communities such as prairies and barrens, as well as pastures and hayfields, although fescue and other non-native grasslands typically are lower quality breeding sites than pastures planted with native grasses and forbs. Many of the Central Hardwoods priority grassland bird species also are “area sensitive,” meaning that they are more likely to colonize and have better reproductive success in large fields than smaller ones. While the offspring of some priority grassland bird species will utilize shrub cover after leaving the nest or for protection during winter, long linear fence rows consisting of trees and shrubs can provide travel lanes and entry points for predators that can have negative impacts on survival rates of birds from the egg stage through adulthood.
Grass-shrubland birds are found in areas with an understory of grasses and forbs, with shrubs and open-grown trees interspersed. Natural communities that provide high quality habitat for this suite of species include savannas, barrens, glade-woodland complexes, open oak and pine-bluestem woodlands. Some species also benefit from properly-executed and sited clearcuts and oldfields.
Pine-bluestem Woodland Birds
These woodlands historically occurred on gently dissected plains with sandy soils where there were few natural barriers to fire. There are no surrogates for this habitat type, and the widespread cutting of pine in the late-18th and early-19th centuries, followed by decades of fire suppression, nearly removed it from the landscape. Currently, efforts are underway to restore large acreages of pine-bluestem woodland in the Ozark Highlands – form more information, see the Interior Highlands Shortleaf Pine Initiative. Priority species associated with this habitat type include the extirpated Red-cockaded Woodpecker, the nearly extirpated Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Bachman’s Sparrow that now only occurs sporadically across the region.
Closed-woodland and Forest Birds
What are typically thought of as “interior forest” birds inhabit a range of natural community types from closed woodland to true forest. Many of these species can be subject to fairly high nest predation and parasitism rates in landscapes where forests and woodlands are fragmented, with large ratios of edge to forest block size, and where pasture, cropland and/or urban and suburban development are interspersed. Early-successional forests, or forests where younger age classes predominate following cutting, stand-replacing fire, or windthrow by tornadoes, ice storms or other severe-weather events, can offer high-quality habitat to the offspring of forest birds as they seek to escape from predators and find food to fatten up before their first migrations.
High-priority wetland-dependent species include waterfowl, shorebirds and marshbirds. Many of these species are more dependent upon wetlands in the Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region during migration and winter than the breeding season, and use a variety of wetland types from deep water, to shallower pools to mudflats in both spring and fall. Natural communities include floodplain forests and herbaceous wetlands (marshes) that were associated with the large river systems that traverse the BCR, such as the Cumberland, Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee, but most were lost or degraded by impoundments in the mid-to-late 20th century, and now have to be restored where possible.