Important Bird Areas

Cherokee Prairie

Arkansas

Cherokee Prairie consists of three tallgrass prairie remnants: Cherokee Prairie Natural Area (566 ac; Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission), H.E. Flanagan Prairie Natural Area (257 ac; Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission), and Presson-Oglesby Prairie Preserve (155 ac; The Nature Conservancy). They are small examples of the formerly vast Cherokee Prairie formation that covered much of the western Arkansas River Valley. 

Ornithological Summary

This site regularly supports significant densities of one or more of the bird species considered by Audubon as vulnerable in Arkansas: twelve species of birds have been found on these prairies & Cherokee Prairie that are named on the list of Arkansas Birds of Conservation Interest. Flanagan Prairie is the first place where Henslow's Sparrows were found in the nesting season in Arkansas, and still is the only place where it is found in summer in original prairie vegetation. In fact, these prairie habitats and their community of birds are a rarity in Arkansas representing only a tiny fraction of the original vast acreages mostly now destroyed due to agriculture and other land development. This site includes one or more outstanding examples of the following special bird habitats: prairies and shrub-scrub habitat. The three preserves are protected because of their tallgrass prairie habitat, a vegetational type that was previously widespread in the area but now has nearly disappeared due to agricultural and other development. This site is important for Arkansas birds because it represents preserves for the last remaining examples of native grasslands and the community of prairie birds they harbor.

Conservation Issues

Periodic burns are needed to prevent woody encroachment and maintain the prairie habitat. The timing and intensity of burning should be carefully considered. In 2004 the whole of Flanagan Prairie was burned after the nesting season, including the Henslow's Sparrows breeding location. The burn regimen requires a delicate balance because the woody vegetation first invades the rather dry soils crowning the numerous prairie mounds that characterize this area. These low shrubby thickets provide suitable habitat for nesting Bell's Vireos and Dickcissels. Too frequent burning eliminates the presence of the low woody vegetation, but without burning the woody growth gains too much stature. Burning schedules must be such that some low woody growth is always present on the mounds. Because the prairie patches are surrounded by hayfields and pastures, a habitat favored for foraging by Brown-headed Cowbirds, brood parasitism is a potential problem. The existing easy access is an invitation to unauthorized trespassing by off-road vehicles. This abuse to the habitat does not seem to be significant so far, but could be a problem in the future. Fencing was erected at Flanagan Prairie to discourage off-road vehicles.