Ask the Birds

Cornell grant will enable SWMLC to monitor grassland bird populations and assess the results of our restoration work

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy was recently awarded $20,000 through The Cornell Labs Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative which will enable us, for the first time ever, to incorporate bird monitoring into our grassland and savanna habitat restoration work.

Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), state-endangered in Michigan, has established territory at Hidden Pond Preserve for nearly every year since. Photo by Delmar Bachert.

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy (SWMLC) actively manages over 4,000 acres of diverse natural areas for ecological health, including habitat restoration for some of southwest Michigan’s most rare and threatened bird species. Grassland birds like the Henslow’s sparrow, Eastern meadowlark, and bobolink are among those birds whose populations are in steepest decline throughout the Midwest, mostly due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

SWMLC seeks to make the most positive possible long-term impact on these declining bird populations by understanding bird use of grassland and savanna restorations and guiding management strategies accordingly. In partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, SWMLC will implement bird surveys and monitoring protocols on over 700 acres of protected SWMLC lands, and work to establish long-term monitoring capacity through volunteer outreach and training. In addition, SWMLC will conduct complementary grassland and savanna habitat management on 236 acres using prescribed burns, invasive species removal, and canopy thinning.

An open grown black walnut tree provides beautiful and structural bird habitat in an oak savanna restoration at the SWMLC Hidden Pond Preserve.
An expanse of little bluestem, a key grass species in tallgrass prairie restorations, covers a sandy hillside that was once a low productivity field of corn and soybeans. Since it's planting over 10 years ago, the Michigan state-endangered Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) has established territory here nearly every year since.

“By establishing a series of bird surveys, not only do we understand more about bird habitat use at each preserve, but we create historic baselines that we can build on over time and compare with future surveys,” stated Mitch Lettow, SWMLC Stewardship Director. “This grant from The Cornell Labs Land Trust Bird Conservation Initiative will enable us, for the first time, to incorporate bird monitoring at important grassland and savanna sites to help us make sure our restorations are on target and we’re doing the most we can for the birds we all care about.”

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy is very grateful to have been awarded this grant and excited about beginning this important work this summer!


Photos by Delmar Bachert, Mitch Lettow, and Amelia Hansen.

Dense tallgrass prairie habitat that provides thick cover for ground nesting grassland birds shown above. In addition to habitat for declining grassland bird species, prairies are also major boosts to declining pollinator populations, demonstrated here by an abundance of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) blooms.