Prairie birds

Demise of the monarch amidst plummeting pheasant populations in South Dakota

The state pheasant population has dropped by 45 percent since 2016 — 65 percent lower than the 10-year average. Results from hunting have mirrored the decline. In 2007, the estimated pheasant bag was more than 2 million birds. In 2017, it was just more than 1 million, according to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “Looking at the weather right now, we’re off to a record cold April,” said Travis Runia, senior upland game biologist for Game Fish and Parks. Many factors contribute to the last decade of pheasant decline, Runia said.

Snowy Owl classed as Vulnerable for the first time

Striking, widespread and widely recognised, thanks in part to the Harry Potter books, the Snowy Owl Bubo scandiacus was previously listed as Least Concern, the lowest threat category of the IUCN Red List. However, this assessment was based on earlier figures that estimated the global population to number around 200,000 individuals, and the absence of evidence of significant declines.

Florida’s grasshopper sparrows could be extinct within two years

Despite $1 million worth of conservation efforts, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say Florida grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) are facing challenges in growing its population both in the wild and in captivity. The sparrow is largely endangered because of its dependence on its natural habitat: the dry prairies of central Florida. The subspecies was first discovered in 1902. However, it faced a population decline in the 1970s as prairie grasslands were converted to improve cattle pastures, sod production and other agricultural purposes.

Sage grouse numbers expected to decline next year

Wyoming is home to about 40 percent of the sage grouse population in the West, though birds are found in 11 other states and across the Canadian border. The state has taken a central role in protecting the species, both to preserve the larger habitat that sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and other species depend on, and to avoid a federal endangered species listing. Sage grouse numbers are likely to decline next year, part of a downswing in the bird’s population that happens about every decade, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Insects and insectivores on the brink of extinction in the Adirondacks

In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied a petition to put the Bicknell’s thrush (Catharus bicknelli) on the federal list of endangered species. The Bicknell’s is a medium-size (6-7.5 inches) thrush—brown on the back with a white, spotted underside—that dwells in dense balsam-fir forests in high elevations in the Adirondacks. Following is a primer on other wildlife in trouble in the Adirondack Park.

The prairie-chicken has lost as much as 84 percent of its historic prairie and grassland

The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) belongs to the grouse family of birds so iconic to prairie culture. This brown-barred, stocky species nests in shrubbery and grasses of the Texas panhandle, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado. David Hunter, owner of Hunter’s Livestock Supply in Woodward, recollected that the prairie-chickens were often spotted on his family’s 120-year-old farm in eastern Woodward when he was young. “There were just thousands of them everywhere,” the 57-year-old told me.

The Yellow-breasted Bunting suffered a 95 percent decline in the span of three decades

In the mid-1990s, the observed decline of the Yellow-breasted Bunting Emberiza aureola in Hokkaido, Japan alerted conservationists that another super-abundant species might be in trouble. Now we know it has suffered a huge decline, possibly as much as 95 percent of its population, in the span of just two to three decades.

Researchers suspect that nightjars are declining in Illinois

Once common, Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferus) and other nocturnal nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) species are disappearing from Illinois forests as their habitats shrink and change, according to data from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), a division of the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute. “Because they are nocturnal, monitoring for nightjars can be challenging, but we suspect that they are declining,” said Tara Beveroth, an INHS avian researcher.

Prairie grouse are exposed to neonicotinoids

Sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken hunters can again this year voluntarily submit samples for study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Ongoing DNR research is assessing prairie grouse exposure to chemicals called neonicotinoids. These are pesticides that, once applied, can move throughout a plant. Neonicotinoids are commonly applied to seeds before planting.

“We’re into our third year of this study assessing whether prairie grouse have been exposed to neonicotinoids by eating treated seeds or other ways,” said Charlotte Roy, DNR grouse project leader.