Cover image for Prairie birds : fragile splendor in the Great Plains
Prairie birds : fragile splendor in the Great Plains
Johnsgard, Paul A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvii, 331 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
1. An ancient sea of grass -- 2. The biotic communities of the central plains -- 3. Lessons in survival -- 4. Broad wings over short grass : Swainson's and Ferruginous hawks -- 5. Dawn dances on the prairie : prairie-chickens and sharp-tailed grouse -- 6. Shorebird sagas : long-billed curlew, marbled godwit, and upland sandpiper -- 7. High drama on the high plains : prairie falcons, mountain plovers, and prairie dogs -- 8. Meadows and marshes : northern harrier, Wilson's plovers, and prairie dogs -- 9. The silent hunters of dusk : burrowing and short-eared owls -- 10. A lark by any name : meadowlarks, horned lark, and lark sparrow -- 11. Music over the shrubsteppe : McCown's and chestnut-collared longspurs ; lark bunting -- 12. Furtive sparrows in the grass : clay-colored, grasshopper, and vesper -- 13. Songs of the Northern prairies : Sprague's pipit, bobolink, and Savannah and Baird's sparrows -- 14. The peripheral seed-eaters : Dickcissel, Henslow's, Cassin's, and Brewer's sparrows -- 15. Conclusion : the disappearing prairie and its declining avifauna.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL683.G68 J633 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



For anyone who has ever thrilled to a cloud of blackbirds or a solitary falcon against the prairie sky, Paul Johnsgard has written a book that will both inspire and inform.

One of America's preeminent ornithologists, Johnsgard blends science, nature, and personal observations to tell the life histories of thirty-three grassland birds. Writing with precision and passion, he draws from his own observations to convey the magic of prairie birds, taking readers hawk-watching at Scotts Bluff or beside a prairie river on a spring evening with song sparrows in the willow thickets and cranes at the water's edge.

In graceful prose, Johnsgard provides an overview of the history, current status, and uncertain future of prairie birds, from falcons and shorebirds to larks and sparrows. Some are intercontinental migrants that winter in South America, others sedentary species or short-distance travelers who may frequent the grasslands of Mexico. Johnsgard describes each species, its features, habits, habitats, migratory patterns, and breeding season ecology with the knowledge and flair that has made his books indispensable for birders of every level of experience.

More than a book on birds, Prairie Birds is a compelling portrait of the native grasslands of the Great Plains, which constitute nearly a fifth of continent and are the most imperiled of North America's terrestrial ecosystems. He tells how birds evolved along with this "ancient sea of grass" over eons of time, and also warns of the effects of human interference on the future of grasslands and birds alike as grazing, burning, and agriculture threaten the native grasses on which many birds depend for survival.

The book features forty-seven drawings by the author, including a number of bird songs sonograms. Appendixes provide an annotated list of more than one hundred prairie preserves, bird checklists for primary refuges and sanctuaries, and a list of all birds and plants mentioned in the text. A list of more than 600 citations makes this a definitive reference as well as a pleasurable read.

Prairie Birds is an essential book for readers everywhere who loves birds and are concerned about their future. It invites us to stop and listen for the song of the pipit or longspur as it shows us America's grasslands in a new light.

Author Notes

Paul A. Johnsgard is Foundation Professor of Biology at the University of Nebraska and the author of forty books.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Johnsgard, a lifetime academic ornithologist with 40 books to his credit, presents a scholarly, yet personalized account of the North American prairie and its bird communities. The first three chapters, explaining the geological and botanical origins of the prairie, set the stage for the last 12 in which he treats the avifauna, grouping species according to their respective roles in the grassland ecosystem. Rather than giving exhaustive species accounts, Johnsgard concentrates on behavior and reproductive patterns. Three appendixes provide a list of major grassland preserves, seasonal status of endemic grassland birds, and a list of the birds and plants mentioned in the text. Some 47 drawings by the author are well selected and, for the most part, excellent. Sidebars of philosophical statements and quotations of myths and legends lend insight into the author's spiritual feel for his subject. Bibliography (29 pages); 14-page glossary; species index. A valuable work for general readers as well as undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, professionals, and academic ecologists and environmentalists interested in salvaging a diminishing ecosystem. Recommended for public and university libraries. H. N. Cunningham Jr. emeritus, Pennsylvania State University, Behrend College

Table of Contents

List of Figures, Tables, and Chartsp. ix
Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. xiii
Part 1 The Land: Its History and Biota
1 An Ancient Sea of Grassp. 3
2 The Biotic Communities of the Central Plainsp. 20
3 Lessons in Survivalp. 45
Part 2 The Grassland Avifauna
4 Broad Wings over Short Grass: Swainson's and Ferruginous Hawksp. 65
5 Dawn Dances on the Prairie: Prairie-chickens and Sharp-tailed Grousep. 76
6 Shorebird Sagas: Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, and Upland Sandpiperp. 90
7 High Drama on the High Plains: Prairie Falcons, Mountain Plovers, and Prairie Dogsp. 109
8 Meadows and Marshes: Northern Harrier, Wilson's Phalarope, and Franklin's Gullp. 121
9 The Silent Hunters of Dusk: Burrowing and Short-eared Owlsp. 141
10 A Lark by Any Name: Meadowlarks, Horned Lark, and Lark Sparrowp. 154
11 Music over the Shrubsteppe: McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs; Lark Buntingp. 173
12 Furtive Sparrows in the Grass: Clay-colored, Grasshopper, and Vesperp. 187
13 Songs of the Northern Prairies: Sprague's Pipit, Bobolink, and Savannah and Baird's Sparrowsp. 200
14 The Peripheral Seed-eaters: Dickcissel; Henslow's, Cassin's, and Brewer's Sparrowsp. 218
15 Conclusion: The Disappearing Prairie and Its Declining Avifaunap. 239
A. Major Grassland Preserves in the Great Plainsp. 259
B. Summer Status of Endemic Grassland Birds in Selected Areasp. 277
C. Birds and Plants Mentioned in the Textp. 281
Glossaryp. 283
Referencesp. 299
Species Indexp. 329