Pyramid State Recreation Area is located in Perry County in southwestern Illinois. It began in 1965 as a 2,528-acre site, and in 2000, a purchase funded by the Open Land Trust Program added more than 16,000 acres, creating the largest state park in Illinois.
Most of the park is atop former surface coal mines, and so non-native plants, shrubs and trees occur frequently on the property. But the open landscapes of grassland at Pyramid do not exist on this large scale anywhere else in Illinois. Today, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources manages Pyramid State Recreation Area for multiple uses, including grassland and wetland habitat for nesting and migratory birds.
Bird surveys conducted on portions of Pyramid State Park since its acquisition show that this area supports tremendous numbers of grassland and shrubland birds. These include Pied-billed Grebe, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Northern Harrier, King Rail, Common Moorhen, Sandhill Crane, Upland Sandpiper, Barn Owl, Loggerhead Shrike and Henslow's Sparrows, with more than 500 individuals of this species seen in one season.
Other breeding species here include Hooded Merganser, Red-headed Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Bell's Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow and Dickcissel.
Pyramid State Park provides extensive wintering habitat for Short-eared Owl, as well as open water for tens of thousands of waterfowl during spring and fall migrations.
This site was chosen as an IBA because it met the criteria for Waterfowl and breeding Willow Flycatcher, Bell's Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Grasshopper Sparrow, Dickcissel, Loggerhead Shrike, Henslow's Sparrow, Northern Harrier, and winter congregations of Short-eared Owls and Rusty Blackbirds.
The most significant threat to the existing grassland and shrubland communities at Pyramid State Park is encroachment of both exotic and invasive native species into these communities. The potential loss of grassland communities to exotics and invasive woody species cannot be understated. The site is currently in a long-term planning phase within IDNR, and it is viewed by various organizations as having the potential to meet their management plans and goals. Understanding and creating support for the importance of this grassland complex in Illinois is critical to the long-term protection of the area as a grassland and shrubland complex. Additionally, the surrounding landscape is dominated by grassland areas on adjacent strip-mine lands. Developing these mine lands into permanently protected grassland and shrubland communities would further benefit birds. The strip-mine lands of southern and southwest Illinois are critical population centers for grassland wildlife in Illinois, and conservation efforts should focus on these areas.
The recreation area is a mix of cropland, grassland, shrubs and some open water. The grassland habitat includes both cool and warm season species such as big bluestem, Indian grass, switchgrass, smooth brome, redtop, fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass.