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Georgia Journal of Science

Abstract

The decline of grassland ecosystems throughout the United States has caused population declines of many bird species, especially grassland specialists, which has led to greater interest in restoring these dwindling habitats with a combination of natural fire regimes and the replanting of native vegetation. In the southeastern United States, several species of birds use grassland habitats at critical points throughout the annual cycle, as breeding or wintering grounds or as migration stopover sites. Since April 2007, we have operated 9–11 mist nets at Panola Mountain State Park, in Rockdale County, Georgia, in an area that is being actively restored to native warm-season grasses. We captured 6,786 birds of 90 species between April 2007 and April 2019. Monthly capture rates overall increased significantly during critical times of the year—spring migration (March, F = 6.62, P = 0.03) and fall migration (August, F = 18.06, P = 0.003 and September, F = 6.31, P = 0.03). Capture rates of Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea) increased significantly from 2007 to 2019 (F = 7.75, P = 0.006) during fall migration (F = 16.44, P = 0.0007) and in August (F = 17.97, P = 0.003). Capture rates of Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla) increased significantly during the breeding season (F = 4.90, P = 0.03), fall migration (F = 13.30, P = 0.001), April (F = 6.03, P = 0.03), August (F = 9.68, P = 0.01), and September (F = 15.18, P = 0.003). Given that the increases include wintering season, breeding season, and year-round resident species, we conclude that the restoration efforts at Panola Mountain State Park have had positive impacts on the avian community that uses this habitat throughout all portions of the year. Increases during fall migration (and August and September) and during March when some species are migrating north indicate that changes in habitat have resulted in Panola being an important site for migrating birds, potentially being used as a migratory stopover site. While a breeding analysis would reveal more concrete trends, the increases in grassland residents like Field Sparrows and grassland breeders like Indigo Buntings certainly suggest that breeding habitat has improved with the restoration of this site.

Acknowledgements

Without the hours of hard work and dedication of countless volunteers who made it possible to operate the banding station without funding and we are sincerely grateful to everyone who came out to help, whether one day or many days, and who donated funds and/or materials. The following donated over 300 hours each: Anne Armstrong, Bill Boyd, Danielle Bunch, Maribel Fernandez, Ashley Harrington, Eddie Hatchett, Ethan Hatchett, Paul Hoinowski, Mary Kimberly, Anne McCallum, Allan Muise, Tracey Muise, Evan Pitman, Heather Pitman, Wayne Powell, the late Tim Rose, and Terry Valentine. A dedicated crew of technicians working under Nathan Klaus has spent thousands of hours conducting the restoration of this important site. Several employees of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites have been instrumental in allowing us access, particularly Taylor Aluko, Phil Delestrez, Lieren Forbes, Wayne Fuller, Jamie Madden, Matt Owens, Jamey Rabun. Finally, it must be noted that none of the restoration work – and thus the research – would have occurred were it not for the forward thinking of Elaine Nash and Phil Delestrez.

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