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Prairies provide important habitat for a wide variety of birds. Habitat loss and fragmentation are threatening bird populations throughout the world. In Illinois, most of the land that formerly supported prairie is under cultivation or densely populated. Some of the grassland birds have been able to adapt to changing land use by utilizing pastures and hayfields. Pastures at Midewin provide valuable habitat for grassland and shrubland birds. Although the ultimate goal is the restoration of original prairie, bird habitat will be retained. The restoration burning regime will rotate and hayfields will remain on the site long enough for tallgrass prairie to develop as a suitable habitat. Different pastures can be grazed intermittently to provide an artificially disturbed short grass environment until native grazers are introduced or before drier sites are restored.

The large and diverse habitats at Midewin support several populations of rare and area-sensitive birds at the site. At least 108 species of birds breed at Midewin (Glass, 1994), and 25 of these require a specific habitat for survival. Of these resident bird species, four are threatened in Illinois, and two are endangered. In addition, under consideration for federally endangered status are the Loggerhead Shrike and the Cerulean Warbler which breed at Midewin. A number of migratory birds with declining populations also use Midewin.


Joe Milosevich
The endangered Henslow’s sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), which has not adapted well to agricultural practices, occurs at Midewin and is part of a grassland bird study at Midewin and other prairie sites. The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzovirus) and grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) are both grassland birds whose populations have declined dramatically in the last 25 years. These birds require at least 25 to 75 acres of grassland in order to breed. Different grassland birds require various kinds of grassland habitats. For example, the savanna sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) and grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) require grazed short to medium grasses whereas the Bobolink does well in hayfields.


Upland Sandpiper
Joe Milosevich
The Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), a grassland bird endangered in Illinois, requires large areas of short grass prairie or grazed pasture (Glass, 1994) and at least 75 acres of suitable habitat for breeding. Raptors also require large areas for survival. The endangered Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), whose diet includes small birds and voles, occasionally nests in the upland prairie at Midewin. The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) is another raptor that utilizes Midewin.

The Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus), which has been declining throughout its range, breeds in short grasslands; at Midewin it nests in grazed areas with scattered shrubs. This bird uses thorny shrubs, such as hawthorn (Crataegus), to impale its prey, such as crayfish and insects. Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii) also requires shrub lands in order to survive.

The many wet depressions at Midewin attract a number of wetland birds. Threatened species at the site include the King Rail (Rallus elegans), Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), and the Great Egret (Casmerodius albus). The Black-crowned Night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), an Illinois endangered species, uses the wetlands at Midewin for foraging, as does the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) and numerous ducks and geese.

Black-crowned Night-heron
Joe Milosevich

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Illinois State Museum State of Illinois IDNR Search, Last modified September 1st 2011, 08:13PM.