Exploring Impacts of Regenerative Grazing Practices on Grassland Birds

Photo by Bernadette Rigley

Project Objective

To explore how land management influences the reproductive success of grassland bird communities. 


Managed hayfields and pasturelands are valuable nesting habitat for grassland birds, which are among the most imperiled group of birds in North America. However, these working landscapes have deteriorated in their ability to support grassland birds due to more frequent and early hay cuttings and intense grazing in recent decades. Through our grassland biodiversity surveys, VWL has been exploring how the management of our region’s grasslands influence bird communities since 2011. While this research has provided important insights into relationships between local conservation practices and grassland bird abundance, we have not had opportunities to explore how specific practices, such as grazing or haying, influence reproductive success. However, knowing this information is important for identifying factors that either impede or promote population growth. 

In collaboration with American Farmland Trust’s Sustainable Grazing Project, we will provide insights into how regenerative grazing practices influence nesting success of grassland birds, like Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna) and Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum). In this experiment, we are comparing the nesting success of birds occupying fields that are actively grazed, hayed, and stockpiled (set aside for winter grazing). Since the timing and approach of management activities is the most crucial factor for the successful breeding of grassland birds, it is our goal to identify local farming practices that not only work for producers but also contribute to the recovery of grassland birds. 

This research is in collaboration with the American Farmland Trust and George Mason University. Funding was generously provided by the Band Foundation, Beatrice and Adie von Gontard, Kathryn and Tony Everett, the Jacquemin Family Foundation, Washington Biologist Field Club Grant, Friends of the National Zoo, Conservation Nation, and the Volgenau Foundation. 

Sources of Funding

  • Band Foundation
  • Beatrice Adie von Gontard
  • Kathryn and Tony Everett
  • Jacquemin Family Foundation
  • Washington Biologist Field Club Grant
  • Friends of the National Zoo
  • Conservation Nation
  • Volgenau Foundation


  • American Farmland Trust 
  • George Mason University 

Project Contact

  • Amy Johnson, Program Director, JohnsonAE[at]si.edu  
  • Bernadette Rigley, Research Fellow, Rigleyb[at]si.edu 

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