Did you know?

Nearly 3 billion birds have been lost in North America since 1970. Roughly 25% of those were grassland birds.

The Northern Great Plains boasts a rich and diverse assortment of bird species, providing breeding habitat for some of the continent’s most imperiled grassland songbirds. Other migratory birds such as the Northern Pintail, Sandhill Crane, and Long-billed Curlew depend on the region for breeding and migration habitat. Resident species like the Greater Sage-grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse breed, raise their broods, and find winter shelter and food in the sagebrush-steppe and grasslands. Raptors such as Short-eared Owls breed, winter, and hunt across the northern grasslands. Mountain Plover and Burrowing Owl  sensitive species because of their specialized association with prairie dog colonies  find localized breeding habitat across the plains. Still other species like the Black-billed Cuckoo and Red-headed Woodpecker are riparian obligates, which means they rely on stream and river corridors for food, nest sites, and shelter.

Based on a report by the NGPJV Technical Committee, Grassland Bird Conservation Objectives 2016-2026, approximately 1-2.5M acres of grasslands conservation are needed in the Northern Great Plains to slow or stabilize declining trends of these five grassland birds by 2026

In 2012, the NGPJV Technical Committee identified 26 priority bird species in need of conservation attention. The NGPJV partnership has since elevated five grassland birds endemic to the region as our top conservation priority in response to a 2019 study that documented alarming trends in grassland bird declines.



NGPJV Priority Species Population Estimate in NGP % of Global Population in NGP Population Trend (%/year) Population Change since 1970 in NGP PIF Population Trend Targets
Sprague's Pipit 64,000 5.5% -1.08 -44% Increase
Baird's Sparrow 290,000 9% -0.55 -38% Increase
Lark Bunting 6,100,000 53% -2.47 -69% Stabilize at
-10 to -15%
Thick-billed Longspur 85,000 10% -1.04 -54% Increase
Chestnut-collared Longspur 770,000 24% -4.06 -84% Increase
*Estimates provided by Partners in Flight (PIF) as reported in PIF's Landbird Conservation Plan and Population Estimates and Avian Conservation Assessment databases.


Loss and degradation of breeding and wintering habitat are considered the primary reasons for declining population trends. These priority grassland songbirds generally winter in the southern United States and the central highlands of Mexico, indicating that conservation efforts need to be a continental endeavor. The NGPJV and partners are continuing research to better understand conservation needs across the full annual life cycle of these birds. In the NGP, it is imperative to maintain intact grasslands as well as restore and enhance grasslands where appropriate to provide breeding habitat for these species.


Wetlands and riparian areas are also important for some grassland birds in late summer, such as Baird’s Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrow (Guido 2020). Many wetland-associated species, such as waterfowl, are seeing stable to increasing populations due to the successful wetland conservation work of Migratory Bird Joint Ventures.


Our goal is to sustain the gains made for wetland birds and follow this successful model to reverse declines of grassland birds.