Accessibility/Mobile Features
Skip Navigation
Skip to Content
Editorial News
Classified Sites

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Study: Climate, land-use changes pushing breeding home of Baird's sparrow further into Canada

This July 23, 2011 photo provided by Terry Sohl shows a Baird's sparrow at Grand River National Grassland in Perkins County, S.D. The small songbird that makes its summer home on grassland prairies in North Dakota, Montana and the far northern strip of South Dakota, could be opting for Canadian residency in the coming decades. Research from the U.S. Geological Survey’s EROS Center in South Dakota predicts that climate and land-use changes will likely push the species’ breeding grounds north of the border by 2025. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Terry Sohl)

Enlarge Image

This July 23, 2011 photo provided by Terry Sohl shows a Baird's sparrow at Grand River National Grassland in Perkins County, S.D. The small songbird that makes its summer home on grassland prairies in North Dakota, Montana and the far northern strip of South Dakota, could be opting for Canadian residency in the coming decades. Research from the U.S. Geological Survey’s EROS Center in South Dakota predicts that climate and land-use changes will likely push the species’ breeding grounds north of the border by 2025. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Terry Sohl)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - The Baird's sparrow, a small songbird that spends its summers in a mostly Canadian swath that dips into grassland prairies in North Dakota, Montana and far northern South Dakota, could be opting for sole Canadian residency in the coming decades.

Climate change and a continuing conversion of grassland into corn and soybean fields will likely push the species' breeding grounds further north of the border by 2025, according to research from the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in South Dakota.

Though the research submitted for journal review looked at 50 bird species, the displacement of the Baird's sparrow stands out. That could affect tourism in North Dakota, which draws in avid bird watchers looking to check the Baird's sparrow off their must-see lists.

The bird prefers short grassland, but its summer breeding spots can change with variations in precipitation, said Terry Sohl, a research physical scientist at the centre who is leading the effort.

"They're a little bit nomadic ... and it tends to be tied to moisture. They don't like it too dry, they don't like it too moist," Sohl said.

Sohl's research predicts future land-use trends using the National Land Cover Database, an archive of Landsat satellite images for the entire planet dating back to 1972. Climate change is leading to a warmer, drier northern Great Plains, he said, and that combined with the continued loss of grassland to cropland is pushing the bird's summer breeding range further into Canada.

Julie Zickefoose, who has led tours for about a dozen years to spot the bird during Carrington, North Dakota's annual Potholes & Prairie Festival, said the changes already are noticeable.

"They are getting harder to find," she said. "And it's not absolutely given that they'll be there where they were the year before."

The Baird's sparrow stands about five inches tall with a rather dull palette of brown, white and black, she said.

"As a bird to look at, it's not exciting. It's a tiny, pale, drab sparrow," said Zickefoose, an Ohio-based artist and author. "But it's a very limited range species and so it is a quest bird for a lot of birdwatchers."

Neil Shook, who manages the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Baird's sparrow is a tourism draw for North Dakota.

"We get birders from all over the country that come out here, usually specifically to locate a Baird's sparrow," Shook said.

The species prefers cool-season native grasses such as green needle, porcupine and some wheat grasses, and the refuge near Tappen, North Dakota, boasts block of solid grass for about 10,000 acres, he said.

"The amount of grass that we're losing is definitely going to have a negative effect on those birds," he said.

The birds are often heard before they're spotted, with Zickefoose describing their call as unique, "like three introductory notes and then a very soft beat-y trill that rises in inflection."

Arrival at the breeding grounds ranges from late April to early May, and fall migration back to southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, far western Texas, and north-central Mexico begins in September, according to the Audubon Society.

Shook hasn't yet seen or heard a Baird's sparrow at the refuge this spring.

"If they're not here now, they're going to be here very soon," he said.

___

Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ddlammers

  • Rate this Rate This Star Icon
  • This article has not yet been rated.
  • We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high. If you thought it was well written, do the same. If it doesn’t meet your standards, mark it accordingly.

    You can also register and/or login to the site and join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Rate it yourself by rolling over the stars and clicking when you reach your desired rating. We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high.

Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 0 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

There are no comments at the moment. Be the first to post a comment below.

Post Your Commentcomment icon

Comment
  • You have characters left

The Brandon Sun does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. Comments are moderated before publication. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Brandon Sun Business Directory
Sudden Surge: Flood of 2014
Opportunity Magazine — The Bakken
Why Not Minot?
Welcome to Winnipeg

Social Media