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

Shustack, D. P., A. M. Strong, and T. M. Donovan. 2010. Habitat use patterns of Bobolinks and Savannah Sparrows in the northeastern United States. Avian Conservation and Ecology 5(2): 11. [online] URL:


In the northeastern United States, grassland birds regularly use agricultural fields as nesting habitat. However, birds that nest in these fields regularly experience nest failure as a result of agricultural practices, such as mowing and grazing. Therefore, information on both spatial and temporal patterns of habitat use is needed to effectively manage these species. We addressed these complex habitat use patterns by conducting point counts during three time intervals between May 21, 2002 and July 2, 2002 in agricultural fields across the Champlain Valley in Vermont and New York. Early in the breeding season, Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) used fields in which the landscape within 2500 m was dominated by open habitats. As mowing began, suitable habitat within 500 m became more important. Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) initially used fields that contained a high proportion of suitable habitat within 500 m. After mowing, features of the field (i.e., size and amount of woody edge) became more important. Each species responded differently to mowing: Savannah Sparrows were equally abundant in mowed and uncut fields, whereas Bobolinks were more abundant in uncut fields. In agricultural areas in the Northeast, large areas (2000 ha) that are mostly nonforested and undeveloped should be targeted for conservation. Within large open areas, smaller patches (80 ha) should be maintained as high-quality, late-cut grassland habitat.