- Issue: Summer 2017
- Photographer: Chris Lyons
Grassland birds have taken a nosedive in recent decades: They’re the fastest-declining bird group in North America. Four species in particular—the chestnut-collared longspur, lark bunting, McCown’s longspur, and Sprague’s pipit—have lost as much as 80% of their populations since the 1960s. One of the biggest drivers of the decline is the loss of native grasslands. In the Northern Great Plains, WWF is working with private landowners and organizations like the National Audubon Society to protect grasslands and give these singular species a fighting chance at survival.
This blackbird has a harsh cry that’s often compared to a screeching, rusty gate. It breeds along the edges of small ponds and creeks—and fights off anything that comes too close.
The males of this species perform acrobatic aerial displays to defend and advertise their territories. They prefer to live in shortgrass prairie and sparsely vegetated patches of soil.
This songbird is a year-round resident of open grasslands, although it’s usually seen only during its breeding season. Males have the longest recorded flight display of any bird, often remaining airborne for up to three hours to attract a mate.
The lark bunting—the state bird of Colorado—lives throughout the Great Plains. The male’s coloration dramatically changes between spring and winter, from bold black and white markings to a soft, striped brown.
Named for the patch of color on its neck, this bird once bred in grasslands that had been burned or grazed by herbivores, including plains bison. Today, it breeds primarily in fields grazed by cattle.
Intense red eyes and a pointed crest give this small waterfowl the look of a new wave rocker. It lives in shallow wetlands, where it nests on floating mats of vegetation and dives underwater to feed.