The Rothsay Prairie area is located approximately 4 miles west of Rothsay, Minnesota in Wilkin County within the Red River Prairie ecological subsection of Minnesota. This prairie area runs primarily in a north south direction for thirteen miles with a width of two to six miles. The Rothsay Prairie IBA includes two Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA); the Richard M. and Mathilde Rice SNA to the north, and the Western Prairie SNA to the west, as well as two Wildlife Management Areas (WMA); the Rothsay WMA and the Atherton WMA, along with some privately owned lands.
Several habitat features including wetlands sedge meadows, prairie wetlands, tall grass prairie, aspen clones and agricultural lands make up this IBA. Soil types include a mix of sand, loam, mucky silt loam, muck and clay. This wet prairie wetland complex was formed on the western slope of Glacial Lake Agassiz beach ridges. Rothsay Prairie IBA contains the state's largest calcareous fens. Rare plants are found in these cold water/alkaline soil habitats including salt grass and beaked spike-rush.
The prairie complex is most noted for its Greater Prairie-chickens but a total of 111 bird species have been seen there (including 37 SGCN), 67 of these have been documented as breeding.
This IBA is easily accessed by car from I-94 using the Rothsay exit. A 20 ft. tall statue of a Prairie Chicken greets the visitor at Hwy 52 which can be followed north into the IBA. Foot access and parking are available at the SNAs and WMAs. This site is located along the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail which is supported by communities located along the route and has several participating agencies, birding clubs and other organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union.
A total of 111 species of birds have been recoded at Rothsay prairie which includes 37 species of conservation concern. Rothsay prairie is most important for supporting leks of Greater Prairie Chickens, an IUCN Red-list and Minnesota species of conservation concern as well as for its prairie bird community. MN DNR Greater Prairie Chicken lek counts from 2004 to 2010 ranged as high as 489 birds. Large numbers of Sandhill Cranes have been observed using the area - in 1991 the Minnesota County Biological Survey noted 800 cranes feeding and roosting near the Rothsay WMA.
Changes in agricultural practices could occur in the near future. With the push for bio energy, changes in habitat types and intensity could alter the landscape significantly. This could have significant impacts on species related to prairie habitats.
Towers such as wind towers and cellular towers continue to be on the increase in western Minnesota. The towers and site locations can cause bird impacts and displace nesting birds.
There are several large wind farms planned along the Glacial Lake Agassiz beach ridge and future proposals are likely given future energy needs.
Invasive species and non-native plants are an increasing problem in northwestern Minnesota. Human activity and disturbance related to agriculture and other land management activities opens additional avenues for the invasion of non-native species that can out compete natives.
Succession of native plants might change an otherwise diverse community, continuing to do prescribed burning and propagation of native plant species will continue to help ensure a diverse native plant community making a better habitat for a greater number of bird species.
Wetland loss and or altering wetland levels could have a negative impact on fens, wet prairies and sedge meadows. These wetland types should be protected to provide habitats for a variety of bird species found in these environments.