- The Prairies are home to many grassland birds not found elsewhere in Canada and support millions of breeding ducks and other water birds in numerous small ponds and wetlands.
- Grassland bird populations are declining rapidly. Native grasslands and pasture lands continue to be lost or degraded through agricultural intensification, such as conversion to grains, oilseed or fibre crops which provide poor habitat for most birds. Oil and gas development, fragmentation by roads and fire suppression also reduce habitat. The conservation and restoration of remaining native prairie and more bird-friendly agricultural practices are needed to restore grassland birds.
- Waterfowl and other water bird populations fluctuate with annual water levels. Habitat protection, through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and careful harvest management have helped to maintain waterfowl populations. However, wetlands continue to be drained for agriculture, and climate models predict droughts in the Prairies, which could lead to future declines in birds.
Grassland birds are in trouble. Since 1970, populations on the Canadian Prairies have declined by almost 40% on average. Historical population declines were likely even larger, as much native grassland habitat was lost prior to the start of bird monitoring in 1970.
The endangered Greater Sage-Grouse, highly
susceptible to disturbance, occurs in habitats
increasingly subject to oil and gas development.
Preservation and restoration of its prairie and
sagebrush habitat will benefit many other
grassland species. (photo: May Haga)
Forest-associated birds have benefited as fire suppression and expanding human settlement have increased the area of woody vegetation. However, these same changes exacerbate the declines in many grassland bird populations by further removing and degrading native prairie and grasslands.
The wetlands of the Prairie Pothole region-two
thirds of which is in Canada-are the waterfowl
nursery of North America. About half of the
continent's ducks are produced here. (photo:
Waterfowl and some other water birds that rely on larger water bodies have increased in population—the Ruddy Duck population has increased by over 50% and the Gadwall population by over 70%. Collaborative partnerships, like the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture, have helped preserve some of the wetland habitat these birds require for breeding and survival.
Species that primarily rely on Prairie potholes—small, temporary wetlands that depend on snowmelt and rain—have generally not fared as well. These habitats are more vulnerable to drought and draining for agriculture. Among these species, the Northern Pintail and Horned Grebe populations have declined by over 70%.
McCown's Longspurs have declined by 90%, and
the species is now considered at risk, along
with more than half of Canada's grassland bird
species. (photo: Alan MacKeigan)
Pollutants, including pesticides and heavy metals, reduce the health, reproduction and survival of birds.
Linear development (e.g., roads, power lines, pipelines, seismic lines) fragments the landscape, and introduces noise, predators and invasive plants that are detrimental to bird populations.
Increasing water use by cities, agriculture and industry reduces the amount remaining in wetlands to support waterfowl, shorebirds and other water birds.
Suppressing the natural cycle of fire, particularly near cities and towns, has expanded shrub and forest habitats at the expense of grasslands.
Climate change is an emerging threat. The predicted increase in droughts for the Prairies will have severe consequences for birds and humans.
The Western Meadowlark is one of many
species of grassland birds that benefit
from bird-friendly agricultural practises.
(photo: May Haga)
Farming practices that are compatible with birds are especially important in the heartland of Canadian agriculture. Many grassland birds benefit from appropriate livestock grazing to maintain their preferred habitat. Other bird-friendly practices include no-till farming, planting cover crops, such as pasture and hay that prevent soil erosion and provide nesting cover for some grassland birds, reducing pesticide use and preserving wetlands.
Suffield National Wildlife Area protects some
of the most extensive remaining short-grass
prairie in Canada. (photo: Garry C. Trottier)
Healthy grasslands and wetlands can be protected through cooperative tools such as stewardship agreements, community-based urban planning and conservation programs that include landowners.
Canadians’ lifestyle choices can help grassland birds. Including bison, beef and other range fed meat in your diet encourages the retention of pasture land.
American Avocets benefit from the conser-
vation of wetlands carried out under the North
American Waterfowl Management Plan. (photo: