The effects of patch burn grazing on breeding grassland birds
Document Type: Thesis
Author(s): Michelle C. Biodrowski
Publication Year: 2013

Cataloging Information

  • Ammodramus savannarum
  • birds
  • dickcissel
  • fire
  • grasshopper sparrow
  • grassland
  • grassland birds
  • grazing
  • Great Plains
  • heterogeneity
  • patch burn grazing
  • Spiza americana
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: November 12, 2015
FRAMES Record Number: 17932


Management practices help determine the value of prairie fragments for the conservation of birds. Patch burn grazing is a relatively new management technique that creates a series of burned and unburned patches of vegetation with grazing within a grassland unit. The habitat patches created by patch burn grazing are intended to increase heterogeneity in vegetation structure of grassland units. This heterogeneity between patches can provide habitat niches to a broader range of grassland bird species. My study assessed the possibility that grassland birds might avoid patch edges created by patch burn grazing in small (25 to 149 ha), mixed-grass prairies of central Nebraska. I focused on Dickcissels (Spiza americana) and Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum), two species of conservation concern. First, I measured vegetation variables to quantify the impacts of patch burn grazing on vegetation heterogeneity. Next, I asked if edges created by patch burn grazing influenced male birds to change their territory size, shape and placement relative to habitat edges. Finally, I asked if edges created by patch burn grazing affected females by influencing their nest placement. I found vegetation structure was affected by the patch burn grazing treatments. In addition, vegetative heterogeneity varied among the different patches. My results showed that male Dickcissels and Grasshopper Sparrows were not affected by patch burn edges in a way that would cause them to change their territory shape or size. Also, males did not change the placement of their territories relative to patch burn grazing edges. Similarly, females did not avoid patch burn edges when they selected nesting sites. My study suggested that patch burn grazing can be used to manage for grassland bird habitat and cattle production within smaller, mixed-grass prairie fragments as well as the larger Tallgrass prairies where patch burn management was developed (Fuhlendorf et al. 2006, Derner et al. 2009). Because grassland birds show species specific responses to habitat, more research is needed to show if other species respond to patch burn edges in a similar way.

Online Link(s):
Biodrowski, Michelle C. 2013. The effects of patch burn grazing on breeding grassland birds. Master of Science. Omaha, NE: University of Nebraska-Omaha. 93 p.