Grassland Bird Migration Project

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Across great distances they migrate—from the prairies, hayfields, and plains of North America to the arid grasslands of Mexico and the pampas and fields of South America. Migratory grassland birds spend nearly three-quarters of their lives away from their breeding grounds, yet we know relatively little about this time in their lives. We cannot truly conserve and manage migratory bird populations until we understand the processes affecting them during the migration and non-breeding periods.

VCE is discovering the migration routes and wintering sites for four migratory grassland bird species: Upland Sandpiper, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bobolink. To track them in migration, we're fitting birds with satellite tags and high-tech miniature backpacks called geolocators.

Geolocators record sunlight levels and the satellite tags communicate with the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites—both types of tags allow us to determine where a bird has been for an entire year across its breeding, wintering, and migratory range. These lightweight tracking devices are powerful new tools for bird conservation, and VCE and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Legacy Program are partnering together to protect at-risk grassland bird species on military lands across the U.S. In 2015, we launched a multi-year research project for grassland birds on six military installations in six states–from North Dakota to Massachusetts. The outcomes of this research project will illuminate a full life-cycle approach to conserving grassland bird populations across the U.S.