Audubon recently released the first ever State of the Grasslands Report: Chicago Wilderness - 2018, a survey of current grassland habitat in the suburbs and collar counties of Chicago.
This is the first time that this endangered ecosystem has been successfully quantified for the area and marks a significant step toward regionally coordinated land management practices that benefit grassland birds.
“We cannot bring back imperiled grassland birds without first understanding how specific land management actions impact their habitats,” Daniel Suarez, stewardship program manager for Audubon Great Lakes, said in a news release.
“This report is a turning point in grassland bird conservation because we finally have the foundation on which to build a richer understanding of this relationship, so that we can set bird and habitat conservation goals.”
Aside from providing habitat that allows birds such as bobolinks, Eastern meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows, Henslow’s sparrows, and sedge wrens to thrive, grasslands that can sustain nesting these species will also provide valuable “ecosystem services” to surrounding communities such as flood protection, groundwater recharge, water purification and carbon storage.
Illinois was nicknamed the “Prairie State” because grasslands used to be abundant, but today, only 0.01 percent of the state’s original prairie remains. Those few remaining acres, however, still have the potential to bring back threatened and endangered bird species.
According to recent data, Henslow’s sparrow and bobolink populations appear to be rebounding where committed local landowners and volunteer stewards are creating healthy grassland habitat.
“It’s exciting that small patches of restored grassland can collectively have a big impact,” Stephanie Beilke, conservation science associate for Audubon Great Lakes, “The work being done here in Chicago can potentially serve as a model for success across our region, it’s a ray of hope for our grassland birds.”