Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Pennsylvania
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Stauffer, G. E., D. R. Diefenbach, M. Marshall, and D. Brauning. 2011. Nest success of grassland sparrows on reclaimed surface mines. Journal of Wildlife Management 75:548-557.


Grasslands resulting from surface mine reclamation support grassland songbird populations in several mid-western and eastern states in the USA, especially where reclaimed mines are large (>1000 ha). However, most reclaimed surface mines in Pennsylvania are small (<200 ha), and nest success is unknown. We evaluated nest success of grasshopper (GRSP; Ammodramus savannarum), Henslow's (HESP; Ammodramus henslowii), and Savannah sparrows (SAVS; Passerculus sandwichensis) on 4 reclaimed surface mines (50 - 180 ha) in western Pennsylvania, USA from 2006 - 2007. Overall nest success based on mean covariate values was 0.435 (95% CI = 0.376 - 0.504) for GRSP, 0.396 (95% CI = 0.295 - 0.533) for HESP, and 0.158 (95% CI = 0.063 - 0.392) for SAVS. These estimates of nest success are comparable to those on larger reclaimed mines and other habitats. GRSP and HESP nests that were well concealed were less likely to fail than highly visible nests, and nests in areas with surrounding deep litter were more likely to fail than nests in areas with shallow litter. SAVS nests in areas with high visual obstruction by vegetation were less likely to fail than nests in areas with sparse and short vegetation. Daily probability of survival for GRSP nests was greatest early and late in the breeding season, and SAVS nest survival followed a decreasing linear trend. Nest survival of HESP was greater on warm days, whereas for SAVS nest survival decreased on warm days and on days with rain, but for SAVS confidence intervals of weather effects included zero. We suggest that small reclaimed surface mine grasslands can provide valuable nesting habitat, and should be considered in conservation plans for grassland birds. Because nest success can increase in the latter part of the nesting season, agricultural disturbances or management activities should be delayed until late nesting attempts have concluded.