Integrating Bird Conservation into Range Management

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bovine


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, participatory research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: wildlife
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships


    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.

    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.