Working Lands for Wildlife Initiatives Benefit Songbirds Too!

July 19, 2019

Lesser prairie-chicken | Photo: J.N. Stuart

New Research Shows That Songbirds in the southern Great Plains Benefit From Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative and Conservation Reserve Program Practices

Across the West, from the Great Plains through the Great Basin and from Oregon to Texas, Working Lands for Wildlife Initiatives like the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) and the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) focus on improving working lands to benefit wildlife and improve rangeland resiliency. While SGI and LPCI concentrate on sage grouse and lesser prairie-chicken respectively, they both promote voluntary conservation practices that improve range and grassland health in a holistic manner. The beneficial conservation impacts from these initiatives affect more than just the specific species the initiatives target. And that’s exactly how conservation should work.

A new study from the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions Program and done in partnership between LPCI, CEAP Wildlife, the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, and Playa Lakes Joint Venture, shows that conservation practices implemented on private lands enrolled in either LPCI or the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), benefited many imperiled songbird species that rely on healthy prairie and grassland ecosystems alongside the lesser prairie-chicken. By improving habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken, landowners also increased many songbird populations, including eastern meadowlarks, Cassin’s sparrows and grasshopper sparrows.

In fact, researchers found that songbird populations rose by 2.4 million birds due, in part, to the conservation practices implemented through LPCI and CRP.

Similarly, in sage grouse country, prior research has shown that sagebrush-dependent songbirds like the Brewer’s sparrow and the green-tailed towhee benefit from conifer removal that improves sage grouse habitat. We call that win-win conservation!

Check out the new Science to Solutions Report from our friends at the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative to learn more about how millions of songbirds benefit from LPCI and CRP conservation practices or download the report here.

Key finding from the Science to Solutions Report include:

  • In the southern Great Plains, several bird species that depend on healthy grasslands are in decline.
  • Researchers found that conservation practices contributed to improved regional abundance for 24 of the 40 grassland bird species studied, over half of which are in decline, amounting to 2.4 million more songbirds.
  • Ranches enrolled in prescribed grazing through the NRCS Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative showed the greatest variety and abundance of grassland-dependent birds.

Grasshopper sparrow (Alan Schmierer), eastern meadowlark (John Sutton) and Cassin’s sparrow (Alan Schmierer) are some of the songbirds evaluated in the research. All three showed impressive population gains following the implementation of conservation practices through LPCI and CRP.

In total, the conservation practices contributed to improved regional abundance for:

  • 14 of 27 species of grassland generalists, 10 of which are declining
  • 10 of 13 species of grassland obligates, 7 of which are declining
  • Conservation-related population increases amounted to 2.4 MILLION MORE SONGBIRDS in the study area, including these species-specific gains:
      • 17% of the Cassin’s sparrow population
      • 21% of the eastern meadowlark population
      • 16% of the grasshopper sparrow population


The Sage Grouse Initiative is a partnership-based, science-driven effort that uses voluntary incentives to proactively conserve America’s western rangelands, wildlife, and rural way of life. This initiative is part of Working Lands For Wildlife, which is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.