Iowa's Avian Habitats at Risk
Iowa lies at the heart of what once was North America's tallgrass prairie, and "the beautiful land" once was rich with the song of grassland birds. However, today but a fraction of 1% of that historic prairie remains, and the incredible birds dependent upon such habitat have declined accordingly. The vast majority of these losses are directly related to increasingly intensive farming practices. Pastures, haylands and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands do provide replacement habitat for some avian and other wildlife species, but very often these agricultural cover types are too small or too widely dispersed. Therefore, these small habitat patches usually cannot accommodate the landscape-scale habitat requirements of species such as Greater Prairie Chickens, Short-eared Owls, Grasshopper Sparrows, and many others.
Iowa's other major bird habitats--wetlands and forests--also declined with conversion of our landscape to row crop agriculture, but at present they are not faring quite as badly as grasslands. The accompanying avian diversity and habitat "health meter" readily portrays the current situation faced by Iowa's bird life. Through conservation and restoration programs, wetland losses have slowed and even stabilized, although wetland quality continues to decline. Many wetland birds are now holding their own, although some species, such as Black Terns and American Bitterns, have dwindled to the point that they are considered critical "criteria species" for Audubon's Important Bird Area program (see details about the IBA program elsewhere on this website). Iowa's forests and woodlands, with some of their associated avian communities, have actually increased in the past three decades, following nearly a century of forests lost to farming and development. Still, some birds, such as Wood Thrushes and Hooded Warblers, are at or near record low numbers in Iowa. This is, in large part, due to fragmentation and poor management of woody habitats.
A major focus of Iowa Audubon's mission centers upon conservation of all these habitats, and upon educating our citizens about the importance of good habitat--not only to birds, but to our very environment and therefore to human life.