Bird Species Nesting in a Managed Grassland at Panola Mountain State Park, Central Georgia

In southeastern North America Native-Americans used to set fire to the woods every year, an activity that created a mosaic of open woodland and grassland. They also abandoned their corn patches when soil fertility became depleted, and warm season grasses would take over the fields. Many species of birds prefer to nest in a landscaped dominated by tall grasses consisting of little and big bluestem. Modern farmers suppress fires and plant non-native cool season grasses that grow in fall and winter. The hay from these species of grasses is mowed in the middle of summer. The mowing destroys bird nests, and as a consequence, birds that like to nest in grassy areas are in decline. Ecologists are restoring a native grassland in Panola Mountain State Park located just south of Atlanta, Georgia. They have replaced non-native cool season grasses with native warm season grasses, and they set fire to half of the tract every other year during late winter or early spring.

A recent study found 52 bird nests on this tract, and 35% of them were successful. 11 species of birds nest on the tract including bluebird, Carolina wren, common yellowthroat warbler, field sparrow, blue grosbeak, tree swallow, indigo bunting, red-winged blackbird, white-eyed vireo, Carolina chickadee, and killdeer plover. Bluebirds, Carolina wrens, and yellowthroat warblers were the most common species. Surprisingly, the most successful nests were located on the ground. The least successful nests were those located in nesting boxes near water or trails. The authors of this study think predators drawn toward water are more likely to find the nest boxes located there.

Eastern bluebird. Photo from the Indiana Audubon Society
Carolina wren. Photo from Salt Magazine.
Common yellowthroat. Photo from the Mitch Waite Group.

After reading this study I am inspired to visit Panola Mountain State Park, but I will wait until spring when birds are more active, hunting for insects to feed their young. The park also features a granite monadnock and a wetland.


Allen, K. and K. Stumpf

“Avian Reproduction Success is Associated with Multiple Vegetation Characteristics at an Active Grassland Restoration Site in Central Georgia”

Georgia Journal of Science 79 (2) 2021

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