Songbird response to rest-rotation and season-long cattle grazing in a grassland sagebrush ecosystem

Jessie D. Golding, Victoria J. Dreitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Grazing on natural rangelands, which are areas dominated by native vegetation that are used for livestock grazing, can achieve desired vegetation outcomes, preserve native habitat, and economically benefit multiple stakeholders. It is a powerful tool that can be manipulated to reduce wildlife declines and benefit ecosystems. However, the benefits of conservation grazing systems on many wildlife communities remain relatively unexplored. We compared songbird communities between two grazing systems in eastern Montana: rest-rotation, which is a conservation grazing system, and season-long. We measured differences in abundance of eight songbird species over a two year period using dependent double-observer transect surveys and a multispecies dependent double-observer abundance model. The species were chosen to be representative of the sagebrush grassland community: a sagebrush obligate, Brewer's sparrow (Spizella breweri); a faculatative grassland species, brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater); grassland obligate species, chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus), horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), lark bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys), McCown's longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii), and western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta); and a generalist, vesper sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus). Our results show that these species exhibit mixed responses to these two grazing systems. The sagebrush obligate (Brewer's sparrow), generalist (vesper sparrow), and two grassland associated species (horned lark and chestnut-collared longspur) were equally abundant on both grazing systems, suggesting grazing system had no effect on their abundance. However, the remainder of the grassland associated species showed a response to grazing: three (brown-headed cowbird, lark bunting, and western meadowlark) were more abundant in season-long than rest-rotation, whereas one (McCown's longspur) was more abundant in rest-rotation. These results suggest that differences in grazing management affect a subset of grassland obligate species and that only one species, McCown's longspur, preferred conservation grazing. Our findings provide useful information for assessing the suitability of grazing as a conservation tool for songbirds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-612
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Dec 15 2017


  • Avian community
  • Grassland
  • Grazing
  • Multispecies dependent double-observer abundance model
  • Sagebrush


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