Give it up for grasslands! We’re celebrating one of North America’s most expansive and endangered ecosystems – and the birds that call this habitat home – on this National Prairie Day. Audubon Conservation Ranching, the National Audubon Society’s flagship grassland habitat program, is a sponsor of National Prairie Day, which was initiated by the Missouri Prairie Foundation in 2016.
Equally as important is connecting you – Audubon supporters – to the current prairie plight. Grassland birds may not be near as colorful as many of their counterparts, nor are they backyard regulars. They don’t get billboards or the front of tee shirts and they live in places where most of us don’t. Yet as subtle or understated as they may be, they are winged treasures nonetheless. Like the bubbly call of the Bobolink, which sounds a lot like R2D2. And the Eastern or Western Meadowlark, for which a fencepost without one singing its familiar song is one too many.
Here is a prairie primer on where grasslands and grassland birds stand, including how Audubon, through Audubon Conservation Ranching and the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal, is playing a vital role in conserving habitat and raising the public profile of grassland conservation.
Grassland bird trends are troubling.
According to the most recent State of the Birds Report, grassland birds have suffered the biggest bird declines of any terrestrial biome since 1970. The eastern Great Plains is a hotspot of population loss due to habitat conversion, tree and shrub encroachment, and pesticide applications.
Grasslands are America’s most endangered habitat.
In the United States, more than 60% of native grasslands have been lost to agricultural conversion and tree encroachment, totaling 360 million acres of habitat loss. Another 125 million acres are at high risk of being lost in the near future. Less than one-half of 1 percent of the original tallgrass prairies remain in Missouri, and it has been virtually eliminated from Iowa and Illinois.
Grasslands are climate fighters.
According to Audubon’s Natural Climate Solutions Report, grasslands store approximately one-third of the terrestrial soil organic carbon pool. In some regions, grasslands will store more carbon for a longer period of time than forests, as climate change reduces the resilience of trees to drought and fire, favoring grasses and other kinds of herbaceous vegetation.
Grasslands are public servants.
“Ecosystem services” are benefits that people receive from natural ecosystems. In addition to sequestering carbon comparable to some forest types, grasslands improve water filtration and reduce runoff – positively impacting groundwater for drinking and agricultural use.
The National Audubon Society is active in grassland conservation.
Through the Audubon Conservation Ranching program, we’ve gone directly to the source: working with private ranchers who own or manage the land where grassland birds live. More than 100 ranches have now earned the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal – a land certification label that ties consumers to conservation by letting them know beef or bison products were grazed on lands specifically managed for birds and biodiversity.
In our next few posts, we’re going to get our hands dirty, digging deeper into what makes grasslands such havens for birds and biodiversity. Whether you’re just introduced to the wild, wonderful world of grasslands, or a certified prairie professor, we hope you’ll grow with us.