Into the Nest

Into the Nest: Let's build a nest

  This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers.  Click here  for all Into the Nest posts.

This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers. Click here for all Into the Nest posts.

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.

My first official nest discovery was of a saltmarsh sparrow back in 2008. We had been searching for days, and I was beginning to think they were impossible to find. After finding the first one and getting a good search image, we found many more.

 Photo provided by Carolyn Byers

Photo provided by Carolyn Byers


Important Side-Note:

I want to take a moment to emphasize how important it is to respect bird nests. We will be sharing a lot of photos and videos of nests throughout the summer, most of which were taken from within a foot of the nest. Scientists have very strict rules about how to behave around a nest, how frequently we’re able to visit a nest, and how to treat the vegetation surrounding each nest. These rules protect the chicks and to try to prevent our presence from attracting predators to the nest. Please, please, please: if you find a nest, keep your distance, and only observe it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the parents. If the parents fly away from you when you approach the nest, you’re too close! Thank you for respecting our birds and keeping them safe during their most vulnerable time- when they’re in the nest.

If you’re interested in reading more about how we found nests during my thesis research or how we kept our nests as safe as possible, you can find more information at my website.


  An eastern meadowlark gathers materials to do some housework. Photo by Matthew Paulson

An eastern meadowlark gathers materials to do some housework. Photo by Matthew Paulson

Back to the story:

Nest site selection and nest building are ritualized behaviors that help to solidify pair bonds. Each species has their own special way of going about this. In some species like sedge wrens and northern harriers, both the male and female work to build a nest. In other species, the female alone builds the nest.

Where a nest is placed on the landscape is very important, and could make the difference between success and failure for the nest. Often when you look out at a grassland, you see the plants rippling in the breeze, feel the cool wind on your face, and think it’s a pretty ideal place for a hike. Under the grass can be a different story though. Next time you’re out in the prairie, lay or crouch down until you’re beneath the canopy of the grass. On a warm day, it can be stifling down there! Grassland bird nests are placed so that the nest is shaded or has some air movement around it to prevent chicks from overheating. Those protective grass clumps also provide shelter from intense spring storms. This small pocket of more favorable habitat is called a microclimate.

  A thriving tallgrass prairie at MAS Faville Grove Sanctuary hosts all sorts of secretive birds. Photo by Brenna Marsicek

A thriving tallgrass prairie at MAS Faville Grove Sanctuary hosts all sorts of secretive birds. Photo by Brenna Marsicek

Birds have very few nest-building tools at their disposal: for the most part it’s just beaks and feet. One of my favorite projects to do with kids is to have them build their own bird nests. We collect dried grasses and other plants, sit on the ground, and try to weave it into a nest. All of them begin the project thinking it will be an easy task, but are dismayed by the end of it. None of their creations look like the tightly-woven masterpieces that birds produce. When I mention that if they were birds, they wouldn't have hands, the kids are even more impressed by the difficulty of the task.

To respect and protect our birds, we did not set video cameras on nests until after they were on eggs. The internet provides though! Here is a video of an American robin adding the layer of mud to her nest. While robins are not grassland obligate birds, they do nest there. You can see her carrying mud with her beak, using her whole body to shape the nest cup, and using her beak to make final adjustments. She will eventually line the mud cup with fine grasses, and other soft fluffy things.

The red-winged blackbird is another non-obligate that nests in grasslands. Here is a video of a female red-wing weaving grasses around standing vegetation to build her nest. If you’ve never looked closely at a female red-wing before, take a second glance here. I particularly love the peachy color on her face and breast.

 

Now, let's go deeper into the nest:

  Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Northern Harrier

Harriers can place their nests in many different habitats (uplands, wetlands, and everything in between) but they are always found in a clump of dense vegetation. Both the male and female gather nesting material and bring it to the nest site. The female does the bulk of the work gathering material and building the nest.

  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

Northern harrier nests are built on a small platform of thick vegetation (cattails and small tree branches). The nest itself is composed of finer plant material (grasses, rushes, and sedges, Fleskes 1992). Nests can be 2-18 in high, are 15-30 in wide, with a nest cup diameter of about 8-9 in (Harrison 1975).

 

Eastern Meadowlark

  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

  Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Drawing by Carolyn Byers

The female gathers all material and constructs nests (Nice 1965). Their first nest of the season is usually built in about six days, but subsequent nests are finished in only four days (Jaster et al 2012). Meadowlarks select nest sites with deep litter layer and place their nest under a clump of thick grasses.

Eastern meadowlark nests are built using coarse dried grasses and forbes. They weave these materials around the standing vegetation near the nest. Nests usually have a domed roof and the standing grasses surrounding the nest arch over the nest too. Sometimes there is a visible runway through the litter layer leading to the nest. Nests are 6.5 inches in diameter, 7 in tall. The opening is often about 4 in in diameter, and is taller than it is wide.

 

Henslow’s Sparrow

  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

  Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Not much is known about how they choose where exactly to place their nest. We do know that they always hide their nest deep in the litter layer, and often at the base of a thick clump of grass which create a canopy overhead. Nests can be placed directly on the ground, or about 2-3 inches off of the ground, suspended by the litter layer. We think females are responsible for building the nests, but more research needs to be done on this (Hyde 1939).

Henslow’s sparrow nests are made with thick grasses and lined with thinner grassess or animal hair. The nest cup is typically 3 in wide and 2 in tall, and the walls are about half an inch thick. 

 

Grasshopper sparrow:

Generally build their nests under vegetation that arches over the nest. The female builds the nest in only 2-3 days (Vickery, 1996). Nests are placed in a small depression in the ground so that the lip of the nest is level with the ground. They usually have a small half-dome over the back of the nest.

  Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Drawing by Carolyn Byers

  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

Grasshopper sparrow nest cup and dome is made with thick grasses and woven into the surrounding vegetation. The nest is lined with fine grasses and sometimes animal hair. The nest is 4.5 - 5.5 in in diameter and a bit more than 2 in tall. The inside of the nest is 2-3 in wide and 1.25 in deep. (Harrison 1978).

 

Sedge wren:

  Photo by Carolyn Byers

Photo by Carolyn Byers

  Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Sedge wrens are not grassland obligates, but they are really cool birds that nest in grasslands. Males build several “dummy nests”, which are just the outer shell of a nest. The female will then choose which one she likes best and finish lining the nest. The nest is woven around the standing vegetation, and is often about knee-height in grasslands. As the grasses grow throughout the season, nests get higher!

Sedge wren nests are made of thicker dried grasses with a lining of fine grasses, feathers, fur, and soft plant material (Harrison 1978). Nests are about softball sized: are taller than they are wide, and have an opening about the size of a quarter.

If you were a grassland bird, what would your nest look like?

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

This summer, to celebrate Year of the Birdand 100 years of bird conservation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, we’ll be posting regular articles about grassland bird nesting ecology. My M.S. thesis focused on grassland bird nesting ecology, and I’m excited to share my knowledge—and stories from the field- with you!  We’ll go into the nest to learn about chick behavior, adult sleep habits, feeding and fledging. We’ll discuss predation and learn about how adult birds respond to different predators. You’ll get to see beautiful photos of nests, eggs, and chicks, as well as video footage straight from the nest! Best of all, the next time you’re out hiking in your favorite Wisconsin prairie, you’ll feel a bit closer to the birds you love.

If you’re interested in reading more and can’t wait for the next post, you can read more about my thesis work here.

Stay tuned for our next edition of Into the Nest, coming soon!

Written by Carolyn Byers, Madison Audubon education director


Fleskes, J. P. 1992. Record of a Redhead, Aythya americana, laying eggs in a Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus, nest. Can. Field-Nat. no. 106:263-264.

Harrison, C. J. O. 1978. A Field Guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Toronto: Collins.

Hyde, A. S. 1939. The life history of Henslow's Sparrow: Passerherbulus henslowi (Audubon). Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Misc. Publ.

Jaster, L. A., W. E. Jensen, and W. E. Lanyon (2012). Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Nice, M. M. 1965. Displays and songs of a hand-raised eastern Meadowlark. Living Bird no. 4:161-172.

Vickery, P. D. (1996). Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.239

Into the Nest: Home, home on the range

  This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers.  Click here  for all Into the Nest posts.

This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers. Click here for all Into the Nest posts.

Last week we explored the hidden world within the tallgrass prairie, and discovered how varied the structure of grassland habitat can be. We learned about the habitat preferences of our Wisconsin grassland birds, and learned about the effects that the landscape as a whole can have on habitat selection. This week we’ll focus on how a bird acquires a territory and a mate.

  The lovely Schurch-Thompson Prairie is flush with color (and no doubt nesting birds!). Photo by Joshua Mayer

The lovely Schurch-Thompson Prairie is flush with color (and no doubt nesting birds!). Photo by Joshua Mayer

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: these are the leks of prairie chickens or the dancing grounds of American woodcock. 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.

  Not a prairie. But a good example of small territories used only for nest placement in albatross colonies. Photo by USFWS Pacific Region

Not a prairie. But a good example of small territories used only for nest placement in albatross colonies. Photo by USFWS Pacific Region

The size of territories defended by males is greatly affected by the mating system of each bird. Species that are extremely polygamous, where one male may mate with the majority of females, typically only defend a territory large enough for ritualized displaying and mating. These males provide no parental care, and therefore do not need a territory that will support young. Think prairie chickens and American woodcock. Males that are socially monogamous, who pair with one female and help to raise their young, defend a territory that is large enough to provide food and a nesting site for the young until they fledge. Henslow’s sparrow is a good example of this. Polygamous males that provide parental care and mate with more than one female have the largest territories, in order to provide enough food and nest sites for all. Habitat quality also affects territory size for species that rely on their territory for foraging. High quality habitat may provide enough food in a smaller area than low quality habitat.

  Two males compete to see which is most fit, and females wait in the background assessing their options. Prairie chickens are grassland obligates that nest in central Wisconsin. Photo by Don Henise

Two males compete to see which is most fit, and females wait in the background assessing their options. Prairie chickens are grassland obligates that nest in central Wisconsin. Photo by Don Henise

In most species of birds that defend territories, males compete for choice territories and choose the highest quality territory their status will allow. Males typically use song and displays to establish their territories, and rarely engage in physical conflicts. It is energetically costly to spend time during the day singing. That is time that can’t be spent foraging for food or preening, and all of that singing makes these birds more conspicuous to predators. Males that are healthy enough to sing longer and louder than their competitors and still find enough food to eat while evading predators are extremely fit. While singing may just sound beautiful to us, it is actually a way for these birds to display to their competitors and potential mates how strong and healthy they are.

Males spend some time singing from the middle of their territory, but also sing and display along territory edges. Two or three males may meet at their territory boundaries and sing back and forth to each other. This is called counter-singing, and is an easy way for humans to learn where territory edges are. Look for this the next time you’re out birding!

  An eastern meadowlark has a lot to sing about. Photo by Patrick Ready

An eastern meadowlark has a lot to sing about. Photo by Patrick Ready

Females make their mate selections based on territory quality, and the quality of male displays. Choosing the fittest males ensure that their chicks will inherit strong genes, and that their home territory will have a steady food supply.

Read more about the behaviors of three of Wisconsin’s coolest grassland birds: bobolink, Henslow’s sparrow, and northern harrier.

Photos above: bobolink by Scott Heron; Henslow's sparrow by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren; northern harrier by Arlene Koziol

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

This summer, to celebrate Year of the Birdand 100 years of bird conservation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, we’ll be posting regular articles about grassland bird nesting ecology. My M.S. thesis focused on grassland bird nesting ecology, and I’m excited to share my knowledge—and stories from the field- with you!  We’ll go into the nest to learn about chick behavior, adult sleep habits, feeding and fledging. We’ll discuss predation and learn about how adult birds respond to different predators. You’ll get to see beautiful photos of nests, eggs, and chicks, as well as video footage straight from the nest! Best of all, the next time you’re out hiking in your favorite Wisconsin prairie, you’ll feel a bit closer to the birds you love.

If you’re interested in reading more and can’t wait for the next post, you can read more about my thesis work here.

Stay tuned for our next edition of Into the Nest, coming soon!

Written by Carolyn Byers, Madison Audubon education director

Into the Nest: Grasslands have a canopy too!

  This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers.  Click here  for all Into the Nest posts.

This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers. Click here for all Into the Nest posts.

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.

  The beautifully restored prairies at MAS Faville Grove Sanctuary are a great example of nesting habitat for grassland birds. Photo by Brenna Marsicek

The beautifully restored prairies at MAS Faville Grove Sanctuary are a great example of nesting habitat for grassland birds. Photo by Brenna Marsicek

We know that grassland obligate birds require grassland habitat during their breeding season; they cannot nest in any other type of habitat. However, all grasslands are not created equal, and many of these birds have strong habitat preferences. Where we may see a fairly uniform swath of grass, birds are able to pick out very distinct patches of habitat -- some that they avoid, and some that they gravitate towards. Try to think of grasslands more like a forest: with a canopy of tall grasses, an understory of flowering forbs, and a litter layer of dead vegetation from years past. Just like a forest, grasslands are not typically a homogenous stand of grass. There are clearings with no canopy layer, or areas that are denser than others. It is within these patches that grassland birds find their homes.

  Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Drawing by Carolyn Byers

Many birds have strong preferences for vegetation structure. Grasshopper sparrow and upland sandpiper are both species that nest in short grass habitat. They prefer habitat without much standing dead vegetation or dead grasses laying on the ground (litter layer). They often build their nests directly on the ground next to a clump of live vegetation. These birds require habitat that is managed regularly with either prescribed burning or mowing to remove old, dead vegetation. 

  Savannah sparrows are a classic grassland obligate, not to mention adorable. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Savannah sparrows are a classic grassland obligate, not to mention adorable. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Savannah sparrow, bobolink, dickcissel, and eastern meadowlark all nest in mid-grass habitat. These are the species that you can find in just about any grassland habitat. Since they fall in the middle of the grass habitat spectrum, there will likely be patches that they can use in any grassland.

Henslow’s sparrow are at the far end of the vegetation spectrum. They build their nests in clumps of dead grasses remaining from past seasons, and therefore require tall grass prairie with a thick litter layer. They will not nest in a prairie that has been burned within the last year, as there will not be enough of a litter layer to suit their needs.

For some bids, the amount of grass on the landscape is equally, if not more, important than vegetation structure. These area-sensitive species like northern harrier and upland sandpiper require 250 - 500 acres of contiguous grassland, which are hard to find in Wisconsin’s fragmented landscape. Prairie chickens, which nest in central Wisconsin, are also area-sensitive. Treelines or houses disrupting the horizon my deter these birds from nesting in smaller grassy patches. The SWGSCA (Southwest Wisconsin Grassland and Stream Conservation Area) in southwest Wisconsin is trying to manage for grassland habitat on a landscape level. The DNR currently protects 12,000 acres of grassland within the project area, and is working to create wonderful habitat for grassland birds.

  Wisconsin's fertile soils and agricultural heritage leads to patchy landscapes. Photo by Chris Favero.

Wisconsin's fertile soils and agricultural heritage leads to patchy landscapes. Photo by Chris Favero.

  This is what some grassland birds want: prairie as far as the eye can see. Photo by Joshua Mayer

This is what some grassland birds want: prairie as far as the eye can see. Photo by Joshua Mayer

The next time you’re visiting your favorite grassland, try to view it as a bird would. Get down on one knee and observe the litter layer. While you’re down there, look up at the canopy of tall grasses. Think about what it would be like to search for food while hopping along on the ground beneath all of that vegetation. I hope this helps you to see grasslands through a new lens, and gives you more insight as to how neat these birds are.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

This summer, to celebrate Year of the Birdand 100 years of bird conservation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, we’ll be posting regular articles about grassland bird nesting ecology. My M.S. thesis focused on grassland bird nesting ecology, and I’m excited to share my knowledge—and stories from the field- with you!  We’ll go into the nest to learn about chick behavior, adult sleep habits, feeding and fledging. We’ll discuss predation and learn about how adult birds respond to different predators. You’ll get to see beautiful photos of nests, eggs, and chicks, as well as video footage straight from the nest! Best of all, the next time you’re out hiking in your favorite Wisconsin prairie, you’ll feel a bit closer to the birds you love.

If you’re interested in reading more and can’t wait for the next post, you can read more about my thesis work here.

Stay tuned for our next edition of Into the Nest, coming soon!

Written by Carolyn Byers, Madison Audubon education director

Into the Nest: Grassland Basics

  This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers.  Click here  for all Into the Nest posts.

This new mini-series highlights the fascinating and marvelous ecology of grassland bird nesting, written by Madison Audubon education director Carolyn Byers. Click here for all Into the Nest posts.

 

Into the Nest: Grassland Basics

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.

  Goose Pond Sanctuary is home to hundreds of acres of restored grasslands, some of the few remaining in Wisconsin. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Goose Pond Sanctuary is home to hundreds of acres of restored grasslands, some of the few remaining in Wisconsin. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Grassland birds can fall into two categories: obligate or generalist species. The latter are simply birds that are able to use grassland habitat for nesting, foraging, or loafing around. The former require grasslands during their breeding season, and their fates are inextricably tied to the habitat. The obligate birds that we’ll be focusing on throughout this Into the Nest series include bobolink, eastern meadowlark, grasshopper, savannah and, Henslow’s sparrow, upland sandpiper, dickcissel, and northern harrier.

  This striking bobolink needs grasslands to nest. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

This striking bobolink needs grasslands to nest. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Populations of obligate grassland birds are in steep decline because grasslands themselves are a declining habitat. Less than one 10th of 1% of tallgrass prairie remains in Wisconsin—a habitat type that used to be quite common.

Historically, habitat was lost when Europeans settled the Americas. They used the fertile land to produce necessary crops, and they suppressed the fire that maintains prairie habitat. Grassland bird declines were slow in those days, since they were still able to use historic agricultural fields. Birds could nest in crops like wheat and hay, as harvest generally occurred after nesting was complete. Modern intensification of agricultural practices has made using these surrogate grassland habitats challenging for birds. Herbicides and pesticides, as well as more frequent harvests, make these fields a more hostile environment. Grassland bird populations have been sharply declining since the 1950s.

Click on the images below for a larger view. Once enlarged, hover your mouse over the images for captions.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Our Wisconsin grassland birds are either just returning from migration, or currently traveling. Birds all have their own migration strategies and routes: different solutions to the same resource scarcity problem.

  Henslow's sparrows are beginning to return to Wisconsin for the summer. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Henslow's sparrows are beginning to return to Wisconsin for the summer. Photo by Arlene Koziol

Short-distance migrants overwinter in the southern U.S. They use local environmental cues like temperature, insect activity, and plant growth to time their migration north, and are therefore generally able to adjust to weather patterns that deviate from the norm.  Eastern meadowlarks are the early birds of the bunch. They move north with the melting snow, and can typically withstand a few light dustings of snow after they arrive. Grasshopper and Henslow’s sparrow wait a bit longer, and the first sightings for WI were reported on eBird on April 21.

Long-distance migrants overwinter in Central and South America. As they’re so far away, the local environmental cues that short-distance migrants respond to would do little to inform them of conditions in North America. Instead, these birds rely on photoperiod, or day length, to know when it’s time to head north.  The first bobolink sighting in WI reported on eBird was from April 21 in Iowa County—there was only one lone male. It had just flow about 12,500 miles from southwestern Brazil, Paraguay, or Argentina. Upland sandpipers make a similar journey, and were also spotted in WI on April 21.

  Map of migration intensity moving north, as of April 28, 2018. Map courtesy of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.

Map of migration intensity moving north, as of April 28, 2018. Map courtesy of the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.

As birds arrive back to their breeding grounds, they spend time foraging and recovering from migration. They begin to prepare for the upcoming breeding season. They delight birdwatchers everywhere!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

  Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

Dickcissels are a beautiful, migratory grassland bird that benefits from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar

This summer, to celebrate Year of the Bird and 100 years of bird conservation under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, we’ll be posting regular articles about grassland bird nesting ecology. My M.S. thesis focused on grassland bird nesting ecology, and I’m excited to share my knowledge—and stories from the field- with you!  We’ll go into the nest to learn about chick behavior, adult sleep habits, feeding and fledging. We’ll discuss predation and learn about how adult birds respond to different predators. You’ll get to see beautiful photos of nests, eggs, and chicks, as well as video footage straight from the nest! Best of all, the next time you’re out hiking in your favorite Wisconsin prairie, you’ll feel a bit closer to the birds you love.

If you’re interested in reading more and can’t wait for the next post, you can read more about my thesis work here.

Stay tuned for our next edition of Into the Nest, when I'll give you a picture into the world of setting up nesting territories, and the drama of male competition.

Written by Carolyn Byers, Madison Audubon education director

Cover photo by Carolyn Byers