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Grassland Focus Areas

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NRCS New York Contact Information

For information e-mail
Peter Gibbs
  or call 315-477-6543

Virginia Green
Program Specialist (FSA)

The Development of “Focus Areas” Used to Guide the Conservation of Grassland Birds in New York

Adapted from – Morgan, M. and M. Burger.  2008.  A plan for conserving grassland birds in New York: A report to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation under contract #C005137.  Audubon New York, Ithaca, New York.

The target for the delineation of the Focus Areas was to “capture” or include at least 50% of the Breeding Bird Atlas blocks where each of the grassland species was found to be breeding across the state. The Focus Areas were able to reach that target for all but the most ubiquitous species, while including only 21.78% of the total number of BBA blocks, or 2,797,445.5 ha (22.31 % of the area of New York State). The Focus Areas capture an average of 62.69% of the blocks in which all the grassland birds were reported and an average of 72.06% of the blocks for all but the most ubiquitous species (Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark). To see the capture rates of the Focus Areas for each species using the complete 2000-2005 BBA dataset, see Table 1, below.

Although the BBA does not provide estimates of abundance or densities, one of the criteria for inclusion in a Focus Area was contiguity with adjacent blocks containing grassland birds, and recent analysis by Zuckerberg et al. (2006) indicates that such blocks contain significantly higher abundances of the target species than isolated blocks. Therefore, the actual capture rates of all individual grassland birds as proportions of population size are likely considerably higher than capture rates for simply the BBA blocks themselves.

While the focus areas are officially identified as Focus Areas 1 through 8, common names for the geographic regions of New York in which they are found are listed below.

  • Focus Area 1 is found in Western New York
  • Focus Area 2 is found in the Southern Tier
  • Focus Area 3 is found in the Finger Lakes Region
  • Focus Area 4 includes portions of both the Central Leatherstocking region and the Mohawk River Valley
  • Focus Area 5 is found in the St. Lawrence River Valley
  • Focus Area 6 includes the Ft. Edward Grasslands IBA
  • Focus Area 7 includes the Shawangunk Grasslands
  • Focus Area 8 is found in central Long Island and includes portions of the Long Island Pine Barrens
A map showing Grassland Reserve Program focus areas Web image: Locations surveyed during the 2005 grassland breeding bird focus area survey. Click map for full screen view

New York Grassland Focus Areas

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Locations surveyed during the 2005 grassland breeding bird focus area survey

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Grassland Focus Area capture rates of Breeding Bird Atlas Blocks that recorded possible breeding attempts by grassland birds from 2000-2005, where “Total # Blocks” is the total number of blocks in which a species was found across the state and “Targeted # Blocks” is the number of these blocks contained within the focus areas.

 Grassland Focus Area Capture Rates
Species Total
Percent Captured
Northern Harrier 917 502 54.74%
Upland Sandpiper         165 116 70.30%
Short-eared Owl 24 19 79.17%
Sedge Wren 69 52 75.36%
Henslow's Sparrow 70 57 81.43%
Grasshopper Sparrow 477 285 59.75%
Bobolink 3178 1031 32.44%
Loggerhead Shrike 4 4 100.00%
Horned Lark 698 443 63.47%
Vesper Sparrow 564 363 64.36%
Eastern Meadowlark 2635 968 36.74%
Savannah Sparrow 3070 1060 34.53%
    Average for all 62.69%
    Average without

2005 Grassland Breeding Bird Focus Area Survey

Audubon New York conducted surveys throughout the 8 focus areas during the 2005 breeding season (~15 May to 15 July) to collect distribution and abundance data to be used in combination with the BBA data when identifying targets for each focus area. Surveys were conducted using 5-minute point counts (both double and single-observer), and were randomly distributed across the focus areas. Survey effort was allocated according to the relative size of the focus area. Surveys were conducted at both roadside and in-field locations (when landowner permission was granted), in a variety of grassland habitats.

A total of 487 different habitat patches were surveyed (see Figure 2). Although vegetation and habitat data were collected during this survey, of particular interest was determining the species composition within each focus area to guide conservation activities. In addition, the data were assessed to determine the value of various methods for collecting data in support of the planning and development of a monitoring system for grassland birds.

No Henslow’s Sparrows, Short-eared Owls, or Loggerhead Shrikes were detected at any of the point count locations, and several other species had relatively low representation in the survey, as was expected based on the population trends for those species and the low numbers of BBA blocks in which those species were documented.

The results of the 2005 Grassland Breeding Bird Focus Area Survey were assessed to identify particularly high priority areas at a smaller scale within the Focus Area boundaries. The final compilation of the results is displayed in the following figure (Figure 3), which aggregates both species diversity and high relative abundances. This map indicates the highest priority regions of the state that scored in the highest range of a combined index of abundance and diversity for breeding grassland birds. Locations important for wintering raptors, especially the Short-eared Owl, should also be considered as highest priority when directing conservation towards highest priority areas.

For additional information, contact your local USDA NRCS office, or visit the NRCS Grassland Reserve Program web page.