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Avian Response to Conservation Reserve Program Management Practices in Northeastern Colorado
Avian Response to Conservation Reserve Program Management Practices in Northeastern Colorado

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Led By

Adam C. Behney

Study Area

Phillips and Yuma Counties

Project Status


Research Objectives

  • ​Estimate pheasan​t adult female breeding season, nest, and brood survival in relation to CRP practices (haying, discing, discing and interseeding, pollinator plots) and general vegetation characteristics.
  • Assess how selected CRP practices influence pheasant nest and brood site selection. 
  • Estimate songbird density or occupancy in CRP fields with selected management practices.   ​

Project Description

​The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a government program in which landowners are paid to maintain grass cover on land that was, and would otherwise be, used for row-crop agriculture. Overall, the CRP has had many documented benefits to wildlife, specifically grassland birds, many of which are experiencing range-wide declines due to habitat loss and degradation. However, as CRP fields age with no disturbance, litter increases, bare ground decreases, vegetation density increases, and plant species and structural diversity decrease, which can reduce the value of CRP fields to certain bird species. Therefore, beginning in 2004, some type of “mid-contract management” was required on CRP fields. In northeastern Colorado this management typically consists of haying, disking, or disking and interseeding with forbs. Although there is some evidence that disking and interseeding can provide benefits to ring-necked pheasants in other regions, we lack a thorough understanding of how these various management practices affect pheasants and grassland dependent songbirds in northeastern Colorado. In an effort to provide guidance to managers and landowners regarding grassland management on CRP fields in northeastern Colorado, we will monitor the response of pheasants and songbirds to the three most common CRP mid-contract management practices (haying, disking, disking & interseeding).

We will randomly assign treatments to halves of each study field so each treatment is paired with a control. Beginning in late winter, we will capture pheasants on and around study fields using nightlighting techniques. All captured females will be fitted with a necklace-style radio transmitter and released at the capture site.  We will locate all marked birds three times per week and determine nest sites by locations occurring in the same spot on multiple occasions. For successful nests, we will locate broods three times per week and flush broods at days 10 and 21 post-hatch to estimate brood survival. We will conduct vegetation samples at nest and brood flush sites as well as paired random points to assess factors affecting nest and brood survival and nest and brood site selection. We will conduct two rounds of songbird point counts at six points within each study field throughout the summer.   
This research will evaluate how selected management actions affect multiple pheasant demographic parameters and songbird densities, and provide guidance on how the different practices can help achieve management goals. Furthermore, pollinator plots are thought to benefit pheasants by providing quality brood-rearing habitat but this assumption has not been tested. This research will directly test this assumption and provide information to maximize the utility of these plots to birds.

Associated Publications