Magazine article Endangered Species Bulletin

Bird Conservation in America's Heartland

Magazine article Endangered Species Bulletin

Bird Conservation in America's Heartland

Article excerpt

Ever hear of the Interior Low Plateau Region? If not, you may be surprised that it covers over 30 million acres (12.1 million hectares), spread across a wide swath of the south-central United States from southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, through Kentucky and Tennessee, and into northern Alabama. It is a haven for hundreds of species of wild birds and a region of progressive bird conservation activities.

The marked diversity of habitats in the Interior Low Plateau reflect a long and varied history of climatic and geological influences. Grassland and oak savanna communities characteristic of the Great Plains are found here. Extensive western mesophytic (oak-hickory) forests and forested wetlands also occur throughout the region. The rare barren and glade habitat types--recognized as communities of global ecological importance--are scattered in pockets among the taller, dominant forests. Geographers have done their part by coining colorful names for the corresponding physiographic subdivisions: the Bluegrass and Pennyroyal Regions of Kentucky, the Western Highland Rim of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Valley of northern Alabama.

This is a place where rich American folklore originated. It's also a place where new ways of approaching bird conservation are springing to life. While few threatened or endangered bird species occur within the Interior Low Plateau, many bird species in many different habitats within this region are experiencing long-term declines.

For example, the cerulean warbler (Dendroica cerulea), considered a common species throughout the region only 30 years ago, is now uncommon in some parts and rare in many others. Cerulean warblers occur in large tracts of mature hardwoods during the summer and in the Peruvian montane forests of South America during the winter. Why it is declining at rates exceeding 3 percent per year is not known for sure, but other species that share its breeding habitat, like the wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), and Louisiana waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla), are declining as well.

Bewick's wren (Thryomanes bewickii), still fairly common in the western United States, has almost disappeared from the East. This wren's favorite haunts include slash piles in forest industry clearcuts, areas of natural disturbance, rural areas, and old farms. It, too, is not alone in its population decline: the Bachman's sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis), northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), and field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) also are disappearing from rural landscapes.

The Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) occurs in large grasslands, and although it is expanding its range in the Interior Low Plateau Region, overall population numbers are very low. The grassland-dwelling dickcissel (Spiza americana) and grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) are declining, too. Although no species are entirely dependent on barrens and glade habitats, two declining species, the prairie and blue-winged warbler (Dendroica discolor and Vermivora pinus, respectively), are regularly found there.

How have we responded to these declines? Under the umbrella of the Partners in Flight program, diverse, and some historically unusual, partnerships have formed to halt and reverse declining populations through better habitat management and research. …

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