Integrating Bird Conservation into Range Management

Final Report for EW02-009

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2002: $81,937.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $30,773.00
Region: Western
State: Colorado
Principal Investigator:
Tammy VerCauteren
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory
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Project Information


We implemented eight workshops for resource professionals and landowners in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Workshop attendees more than doubled from 2003 to 2004. Nearly 40,000 copies of the “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds” and approximately 1,000 copies of the North American Bird Reference CD-ROM have been distributed throughout the Great Plains. The manual to assist landowners and resource professionals with integrating birds into their management practices is complete and 250 have been distributed. Tools developed and outreach initiated through the SARE grant are making great strides toward raising awareness of birds in the Great Plains.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1: Develop a teaching manual that is usable by University Cooperative Extension programs, NRCS, Soil Conservation Districts, and wildlife managers. We developed a packet that includes the manual, “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds,” and North American Bird Reference CD-ROM to assist users with integrating birds into their management efforts. We also included a CD-ROM with PowerPoint presentations and scripts to assist trainers with teaching the manual to other users.

We created the manual in a user-friendly format that is applicable for resource professionals and landowners. The manual addresses the question “Why Prairie Birds?” by discussing the economic, ecologic, management, and conservation concerns of birds throughout the Great Plains. We broke the manual into the Northern Plains and Central Plains to better reflect available habitats and breeding bird distributions. We included information on the general and specific habitat requirements of more than 30 grassland and shrub/steppe bird species. Managers and landowners can use the manual to understand how different species respond to range management activities such as grazing, fire, haying, and cropping. They can also use the manual to understand how enhancing habitat for one bird species can positively or negatively impact a suite of bird species. We distributed more than 250 copies of the manual throughout the Great Plains. Distribution of packets, which include manuals, will be ongoing as we establish additional agency contacts and develop relationships with more landowners.

Objective 2: Develop a bird evaluation protocol, which will help resource managers and landowners tie range habitat and condition with birds and other wildlife. The bird evaluation protocol was field tested before workshops in 2003 and during workshops in 2003 and 2004. Testing included surveying birds in multiple habitats at workshop host sites. We started in habitats with a simple structure, including shortgrass prairie, and ended in more complex habitats that included shrubs and taller grasses. To help clarify appropriate survey techniques, we developed three diagrams to complement the survey protocol. The protocol is flexible enough that landowners or managers can adapt it to the method that fits their needs best, which may include point counts, walking transects, or stops along cattle-feeding or -checking routes. The evaluation protocol focuses on indicator birds to help users relate the different bird species to the different habitat features on the landscape, and to minimize the needed bird identification skills. Since management actions such as grazing, mowing, and fire affect these features they change available habitat for the birds. For instance, if grazing is driving an increase in shrub cover, the bird community will shift from one dependent on a grassland-dominated habitat to one dependent on more of a shrub/steppe community.

Attendees at our workshops in 2003 expressed concern about being able to identify birds by sound and requested a tool to assist with this. In response, we partnered with Lanius Software to create an interactive bird CD-ROM—The North American Bird Reference. We had Lanius scale down their original continent-wide CD-ROM to approximately 120 species that occur in the Great Plains. To further assist users, we made it so users could click on the state they work or reside in to access the list of birds that occur there. The CD-ROM serves as a tool to complement the pocket guide, manual, and bird evaluation protocol. It further assists users with bird identification in the field by sight and sound. A special feature allows users to quiz themselves on different birds and even suites of birds.

Objective 3: Conduct four “train-the-trainer” workshops—one each in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. We implemented four train-the-trainer workshops in those states in 2003. We had more than 70 attendees with the majority being resource professionals from NRCS but also representatives from other state and federal agencies. The training session included a morning introduction on the importance of birds as well as bird identification tips by sight and sound. Following the identification session we headed into the field and tested the bird survey protocol and got users more accustom to listening and looking for birds on the prairie. The afternoon session included a discussion of bird species that require big landscapes and a mosaic or diversity of habitat conditions to meet their breeding requirements. We returned to the field and broke participants into small groups making sure the groups represented the diversity of attendees at the meeting. Folks worked together on managing for a species that requires multiple habitat types by analyzing the landscape they were in and discussing habitat features that were limiting and ways to enhance these limiting features. We brought the groups back together to discuss management recommendations they had to improve habitat and what other species would benefit from these practices. We talked about roads, power lines, and stock tanks and discussed ways to minimize potential threats to the species. We also discussed different conservation programs including the Farm Bill and what management practices might be suitable under the different programs. We talked about the scoring criteria for these programs and how having multiple species benefit from a practice would help projects score higher for funding. Users could see how the manual could be used to assist with applying for conservation programs. Evaluations from program participants regarding the bird evaluation protocol, landscape exercise, and utility of the manual averaged from 8.52 to 9.11 on a 10-point scale. Feedback received from these workshops was used to improve the manual and activities implemented during the workshops.

Objective 4: Develop, print, and distribute an illustrated, easy-to-use pocket guide, which will greatly enhance awareness of birds with private landowners and resource managers. The “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds” was designed to fit in a shirt pocket so it would be easy to carry in the field. Many users keep it on the dashboard of their truck so it is readily available in the field. The guide covers 88 species that occur within the Great Plains representing species that occur in grasslands, wetlands, and near homesteads. We originally printed 10,000 copies of the pocket guide but distributed those within a couple months. We sought more partner dollars for the project and did a reprint of 15,000 copies. The guide’s popularity necessitated a third printing of 15,000 copies. To date, we have distributed nearly 40,000 copies to landowners, resource professionals, and school children throughout the Great Plains. The pocket guide has been so popular that we are looking to develop pocket guides for other regions including the southern plains and Rocky Mountains.

Objective 5: Implement four pilot programs with trained natural resource professionals with one program per state in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Workshops occurred in the four states and included NRCS personnel and other resource professionals from 2003 workshops as well as new attendees. The majority of people were new and nearly half of the 180 participants were landowners. Natural resource attendees from 2003 helped throughout the day including leading groups in the field to assist with data sheets, data collection, and discussions.

Participants rated the overall quality of the workshops at an average of 4.625 on a 5-point scale. During the workshop we had a classroom setting to discuss the importance of birds and provide identification tips by sight and sound. After running through the survey protocol in the field we brought the group together to discuss why we saw differences in the bird species by habitats and the importance of maintaining multiple habitats. Discussions also occurred on partnership programs that are available to enhance habitat on private land through NRCS, state wildlife agencies, USFWS Partners for Wildlife, and other partners. We returned to the classroom setting to discuss Mountain Plover conservation and share an outreach video that we developed. We showed attendees how to install the Bird Reference CD-ROM and navigate through the program. We also discussed more in-depth the idea of habitat structure and different bird habitat requirements and prepared to head in the field for the landscape exercise. Attendees were broken into groups where they worked on habitat requirements and identifying limiting features. We made sure each group had a good representation of private landowners, state and federal agencies, and private consultants to encourage the different participants to interact and learn from each other. Based on the previous year’s workshops, we improved data sheets and tables within the manual to better assist with the field component. The day culminated with each group sharing their recommendations for enhancing habitat and further discussions on partnership opportunities that are available to improve wildlife habitat.


Grassland birds are arguably the highest conservation priority among North American birds; they have shown the steepest and most consistent population declines of any group. With 70% of the shortgrass prairie in private ownership, assistance from landowners is critical to prairie bird conservation. Because the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other resource managers work closely with private landowners on management, they are key players in helping reduce declining bird population trends.


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  • Scott Gillihan

Education & Outreach Initiatives



We developed a manual to assist with workshops and provide users with an at-their-fingertips resource for integrating birds into their management and monitoring efforts. We developed workshop presentations to help users understand the importance of birds from multiple aspects including the ecological role they play in the environment and the conservation status of grassland birds. Presentations also helped attendees start identifying birds by sight and sound, which was reinforced in the field. To get folks using more segments of the manual, we designed an afternoon presentation that dealt with the importance of habitat structure to different birds’ needs and how some species need multiple habitat types to meet their breeding requirements. This idea was put to test in the field, which allowed users to think about management and different species’ requirements and ways to integrate the two. The manual includes data sheets and tables, which were used during the workshops to help attendees get more familiar with the manual. These data sheets will help users apply what they learned at the workshops to the habitats they own or manage.

All workshop attendees received the “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds,” “Sharing Your Land with Shortgrass Prairie Birds” manual, and an “Integrating Bird Conservation into Range Management” manual. In 2004, participants also received the North American Bird Reference CD-ROM. The packet we have enclosed with this report is still being distributed to attendees and new contacts within the Great Plains.

Locations of training events in 2003:
Chico Basin Ranch, Hanover, Colorado
Weaver Ranch, Milensand, New Mexico
Bartlett Ranch, Hawk Springs, Wyoming
Padlock Ranch, Hardin, Montana

Locations of training events in 2004:
Jay Butler Ranch, Douglas, Wyoming
Ute Creek Cattle Company, Bueyeros, New Mexico
Negley Farm and Ranch, Eads, Colorado
Banister Ranch, Wibaux, Montana

Outreach and Publications

Publications completed included the “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds,” “Integrating Bird Conservation into Management” manual, and the “North American Bird Reference CD-ROM for the Great Plains.”

Outreach programs included eight one-day workshops in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico with more than 250 participants. Workshops started with a classroom setting to introduce the program and the importance of birds to rangeland health. Knowledge gained in the classroom was applied to the ground through hands-on learning exercises in the field.

Program evaluations in 2003 rated the bird survey protocol at 8.82 on a 10-point scale. They felt the indicator birds and habitat categories outlined in the training module were useful with a rating of 8.52 on a 10-point scale. The overall usefulness of the training module received a 9.05 on a 10-point scale and workshops were rated at 9.11 on a 10-point scale.

Program evaluations in 2004 rated the bird survey protocol at 4.35 on a 5-point scale for usefulness and the ability to teach it to others. The shrub cover and bare ground photos to assist with estimating percent cover were useful, receiving a 4.27 rating on a 5-point scale. The afternoon session to encourage thinking on a landscape scale was useful with a rating of 4.33 on a 5-point scale. The pocket guide was considered very useful, receiving a rating of 4.9 on a 5-point scale. The interactive Bird CD-ROM was useful with a rating 4.39 on a 5-point scale. The overall usefulness of the SARE manual received a rating of 4.138 on a 5-point scale. The overall rating for the workshops implemented in 2004 was 4.625 on a 5-point scale.

We also had attendees provide comments on the overall SARE project. Responses included:
- Very informative and useful
- Great job–learned a lot
- Very good–quite motivating
- Great job–keep doing these programs and more landowners will come
- Very good–would be great for high school environmental course
- Keep it up
- Good way to get people to think, look for and listen for different birds
- I appreciate the project and would like to be involved in the future
- Great effort–very geared to ranchers and farmers
- A good idea to raise awareness of environmental issues
- It was a fun, exciting, and an educational experience

Outcomes and impacts:

We have had landowners request follow-up visits in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico to discuss birds and conservation with them further. Several landowners would like us to visit to help them get a monitoring program set up on their land. Workshop hosts have offered to hold future workshops and attendees have offered to be new hosts. One landowner-host organized a children’s workshop for 2005 and is having us help with bird identification and conservation to instill a conservation ethic early in a child’s development. Landowners are also inquiring about partnership opportunities that are available to enhance habitat on private land.

Resource professionals are taking pictures of birds and nests and sending them to us to assist with identification. They are becoming more aware of the birds using the habitats they are working in. We have been invited by NRCS to help participate in Sage Grouse planning workshops in Wyoming.

Nearly 40,000 copies of the pocket guide are being used and distributed within the Great Plains helping make landowners and managers more aware of the birds grasslands support. Nearly 1,000 copies of the Bird Reference CD-ROM are being used by landowners and resource professionals throughout the Great Plains. The packet we have put together will allow NRCS and other resource professionals to continue to spread the word about birds and integrate them into management plans within the Great Plains. We have helped train the trainers and provided them with simple tools to encourage bird conservation on private and public land.

More than 200 resource professionals and landowners through the Great Plains participated in bird surveys and discussed management practices that benefit birds. Many of the participants are resource professionals who can pass their knowledge on to other staff and landowners, further building the initial impacts of this project. Most of the landowner hosts are well known and respected within their communities, thus measures they take to incorporate birds into their management and planning will be noticed by neighbors and friends.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This program has allowed us to strengthen our partnership with the NRCS as well as several other resource professionals including reps from state agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, National Grasslands, United States Forest Service, Cooperative Extension, private consultants, and private landowners. We have gotten to know many of the different state conservationists and field staff for NRCS as well as several other resource agencies. These contacts have expanded our conservation efforts throughout the Great Plains.

The “Pocket Guide to Prairie Birds” is the first of its kind. Guides exist for raptors or other specific bird groups but are not conveniently sized to fit in a shirt pocket and typically do not represent multiple habitats. Point Reyes Bird Observatory in California recently contacted us to discuss partnering on a version presenting riparian birds of California. Other folks are even developing pocket guides on fish and grasses, modeled after our pocket guide.

The interactive bird CD-ROM was modified to better accommodate bird novices and to target the Great Plains; the original CD-ROM covered more than 900 species and was overwhelming for many users. The bird survey protocol was modified from a more scientifically based survey methodology to meet the diverse needs and skills of landowners and resource professionals on the Great Plains. The workshops were so successful in terms of interest and participation that RMBO will be conducting a similar workshop in Nebraska to help reach more resource professionals and landowners.


Potential Contributions

First and foremost, attendees became more aware of grassland birds, which is the first critical step toward conservation. Landowner and resource attendees gained basic knowledge of bird identification and habitat needs. They got practical experience in conducting bird surveys and identifying birds by sight and sound. They also gained experience in thinking about bird species’ needs and incorporating those needs into range management and planning. The tools we provided, including the pocket guide and manual, will help folks build on what they learned through the workshops and help them in applying it on the ground. Trainers are also better equipped to share the importance of birds with peers and landowners and methods that can be employed to take birds into consideration when managing grasslands.

Future Recommendations

This was not a research project so we formulated no new hypotheses. However, one may have speculated that NRCS and other professionals as well as landowners would not have been very interested in identifying birds and using them as a tool for range assessment. Based on evaluations and conversations with attendees this was far from the truth. Folks got excited about learning some of the different birds and mentioned that they did not know there were so many different species using the grasslands. Several attendees mentioned they would take what they learned and start incorporating it into their profession and/or the land they own or manage.

Recommendations for others doing similar projects include getting feedback from multiple stakeholders throughout the project. Get to know NRCS and other resource professionals and have them help sell your program to agency representatives. It is also important to work with local partners to help identify landowners that will serve as good hosts. We had amazing hosts for our workshops and they really added a lot to the day as well as helped get friends and neighbors to the workshops. When providing food, we recommend working with the locals so money is generated within the communities. Facilities are also critical so make sure you have enough space and a comfortable environment for folks to learn. If conducting field trips, provide plenty of food and water to help keep attendees energized. It is best to have flatbed trailers or a school bus so more interaction between attendees is encouraged. Be sure to reinforce throughout the day the major concepts you are trying to drive home to participants. Always relate what you are presenting to how it impacts attendees, to help them understand why they should care and be involved. Your enthusiasm is contagious so be energetic and try to make all attendees feel welcome. Keep the format relaxed so folks feel comfortable with asking questions and participating in the day’s activities.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.