All seasons on the prairie are special. That said, spring is just a little more special than the rest. It’s obvious why; every day in spring is something like Christmas morning. Instead of presents under the tree, there are birds that have returned for summer breeding season on the prairie.
Did the winds from the south deliver the grasshopper sparrows from Arizona? Did the long-billed curlews complete their trip home from Northern Mexico? What about the upland sandpipers? Surely their journey from the South American Pampas will take at least another week.
There’s only one way to find out; get outside, cock an ear and listen to hear which of our summer guests have arrived.
At American Prairie Reserve in Montana, researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are studying how the reintroduction of keystone species, like bison and prairie dogs, affects the ecosystem. Bison and prairie dogs are both ecosystem engineers, meaning their activity changes their environment.
By grazing, wallowing and burrowing, they create habitat for a wide variety of other species — and birds are some of our best barometers for measuring these changes. If a piece of land has many different birds, we can be reasonably sure it’s providing homes for a broad array of other species as well.