Grassland Bird Surveys in Southwestern Manitoba

From June 15th to June 25th Nate and I headed out to southwestern Manitoba to conduct grassland bird surveys in the Poverty Plains, Lyleton Grasslands, Blind Souris River Valley, Oak Lake Grasslands and Hartney regions. Many of these areas overlap with the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed Grass Prairie IBA or the Oak Lake/ Plum Lake IBA.


Grassland in the Broomhill area. Photo by Amanda Shave.

We surveyed areas of primarily native grassland (and some pieces of tame grassland) used by cattle producers in Manitoba. We were looking primarily for bird species that use the grassland, particularly Species at Risk. These species include the Chestnut-collared Longspur, Bobolink, Baird’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipet, Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike and Grasshopper Sparrow. All of these species were seen, in addition to many more!

Survey mornings started early, with Nate and I arriving at the survey sites at sunrise, and we would survey until 10:00 am (weather permitting). The survey methods for grassland bird surveys included a series of point counts. Every 300-400 metres we would take a GPS reading and stand in one place for 5 minutes surveying by sight and sound in all directions. All species observed are recorded, and the distance, direction and Breeding Bird Atlas breeding code recorded for each Species at Risk. While traveling between point count sites, Species at Risk were recorded if seen incidentally, and their location marked with a GPS point. The number of point counts differed depending on the size of the land parcel surveyed, and the habitat it contains. In addition to being 300-400 meters away from each other point count, they are also at least 100 meters from fence lines to try and capture grassland birds, as opposed to species that are using marginal habitat along roadways.

We also had the chance to speak with some of the landowners in the area, who were both knowledgeable and interested about the bird species that can be found on their land. They were very interested in the bird surveys we were doing, and how the management of cattle on their pastures can impact bird habitat.

Spence NW 18 photo 2

Cattle on the land in the Blind Souris area. Photo by Amanda Shave.

Non-target species that were some trip highlights included Orchard Orioles, a Say’s Phoebe, some up close Coyote encounters, Mule Deer, and a great variety of wildflowers and grasses. Native grasslands in Manitoba have a particular beauty that is more subtle than that of a mountain or ocean view, but I would argue that the need to look and listen closely makes it all the more special as you bird in this unique part of Manitoba.