Explore how grassland birds make nesting in the prairie a
beautiful yet dangerous part of life...


  Northern harrier chicks. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Northern harrier chicks. Photo by Carolyn Byers

Grassland birds lead hidden lives under the thick cover of prairie plants. What does this ground-level existence look like? What does it take to get a new brood of young to fledge and survive?

This summer, Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers will open your eyes to the world of grassland birds and their nesting ecology through our new series, Into the Nest. Regular posts with short essays, photos, and nest camera videos will reveal the advantages, challenges, coziness, and dangers of nesting in the prairie, and how you can help these fascinating and vulnerable birds.

Don't miss any of the Into the Nest posts, all listed below.


 
 

  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

It's hatch day!

June 13, 2018 | While incubating eggs looks pretty boring, it seems easy enough. Stay quiet and hidden. Don’t attract predators to the nest. Keep the eggs at an ideal temperature and rotate them frequently. All of that changes as soon as there are chicks in the nest.

Read on...

 
  Photo by VSPYCC

Photo by VSPYCC

An egg is just the beginning

June 6, 2018 | The grassland birds that we’ve been following this summer have completed the arduous journey back to Wisconsin, set up territories, and found mates. They have built a nest and laid a clutch of breathtakingly beautiful eggs. Now they need to ensure the eggs survive until hatching-- no small feat.

Read on...

 
  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

There is nothing so beautiful as a bird's egg

May 31, 2018 | Most birds lay their eggs in the early morning. This is likely because carrying a large, fragile egg within the oviduct throughout the day could be risky! Gravid female birds (those carrying eggs) are weighted down by their cargo, and may have trouble avoiding predators. Laying an egg is also a vulnerable time for a bird, and early morning laying may minimize their chance of being disturbed by predators (Gill 2007).

Read on...

 
  Photo by Matthew Paulson

Photo by Matthew Paulson

Let's build a nest

May 22, 2018 | Grassland bird nests are just about my favorite things ever. They’re perfect little secrets hiding in the foliage, holding precious babes. I love the way they are often fairly similar, but have subtle differences that let you identify who built them. (Sparrows are my favorite group of birds, which might explain why I love small brown things that look alike!) Nest searching is tricky business too -- and it feels like an incredible accomplishment when you find one.

Read on...

 
  Photo by Joshua Mayer

Photo by Joshua Mayer

Home, Home on the Range

May 15, 2018 | Territories are used for a variety of activities, and their size can vary dramatically depending on their function. A territory held by a colonial seabird may only be large enough for the bird’s nest, and all other activities would take place outside of the territory. Territories may be used only for mating displays. Other birds may hold territories large enough to encompass all of the resources they will need throughout the season. They may be carefully defended year round, or held only for part of the year. Birds typically exclude only their own species from their territory, but may work to defend it from other species too.

Read on...

 
  Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Grasslands have a canopy too

May 8, 2018 | Last week our grassland birds were on an epic journey north to Wisconsin. They made this monumental trek to gain access to the huge flush of productivity that occurs in the northern spring and summer. This food bonanza will make raising a brood a hungry chicks easier, and makes the hard migration worth it in the long run.

So what happens to our birds after they arrive back in Wisconsin? They search for habitat and work towards setting up territories.

Read on...

 
  Photo by Arlene Koziol

Photo by Arlene Koziol

Into the Nest: Grassland Basics

May 1, 2018 | We all have a scene that pops into our heads when we think of ‘grassland birds’. Maybe you simply think of the birds themselves. Perhaps you see sunlight glistening on dewy prairie, while a northern harrier floats a few feet above the grass. Do you hear a dawn chorus of bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks punctuated by the quiet whisper of Henslow’s sparrow? Whatever image you conjure, I imagine it warms your heart.

Read on...


Banner photo: Upland sandpiper nest and eggs, photo by Carolyn Byers