Songbird communities are good indicators of the health of ecosystems. They respond quickly to changes in resource conditions, and there are regional and national data sets that can be used for comparison. Grassland birds, in particular, respond to management practices such as grazing and fire, as well as landscape-level changes.
Our network parks have more species of birds than any other vertebrate. If a park has a wide range of bird species, this likely indicates the health of a variety of habitats and the other plant and animal species that depend on them.
Long-term trends in the community composition and abundance of breeding bird populations will provide a measure for assessing the ecological integrity and sustainability of prairie, riparian, and pinion-juniper systems.
The Southern Plains Network is partnering with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) to assess breeding-bird species trends in three different habitats: riparian, pinyon-juniper, and sage-shrubland. During a five-minute count on park transects, a field crew records:
- The distance to the bird.
- How the bird was detected (visually, aurally).
- The sex of the bird.
- The bearing of the bird from the recorder.
- Habitat information.
Ecologists then examine population trends relative to habitat, density, and diversity of species. Our survey plots will contribute to the RMBO's broader, landscape-scale breeding-bird monitoring program, which includes more than 500 plots in five states in the southern plains.
Landbird monitoring was conducted at all parks within the Southern Plains Network. As of 2017, monitoring has been suspended. This decision was made because the data gained though monitoring were not sufficient to determine trends due to the small size of the parks withn the network.