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Private lands critical for birds

Wood Duck is one of many species that have benefitted from the federal Wetlands Reserve Program. Photo by Joshua Clark

According to the 2013 State of the Birds Report, the first review of distribution and conservation opportunities on private lands in the United States, more than 100 species have over half of their distribution on privately owned ranches, farms, woodlands, and other lands.

Private lands cover roughly 60 percent of the land area of the United States. Owners include two million ranchers and farmers and about 10 million woodland property holders.

Their voluntary efforts have produced many meaningful bird-conservation success stories. Here are three highlights:

• Lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program in Illinois have caused spring counts of Henslow’s Sparrow to increase 25-fold over the last 30 years.

• The Wetlands Reserve Program has restored 2.6 million acres of private wetlands across the nation, providing essential breeding habitat for Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, and other species; wintering habitat for 3.5 to 4.5 million waterfowl; and stopover habitat for migrating Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, and other shorebirds.

• Since 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has enrolled more than 700 ranchers through the Sage Grouse Initiative and provided assistance with sustainable grazing systems on more than two million acres. The systems enhance nesting habitat for Greater Sage-Grouse and improve native grasses, wildflowers, sagebrush, and wet meadows as food resources for livestock.


The 48-page report was published by the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative with contributions from federal and state wildlife agencies and scientific and conservation organizations. You can download it at


A version of this article appeared in the October 2013 issue of BirdWatching.

Originally Published

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