Camillus Unique Area Getting Habitat Makeover

The DEC's Division of Lands and Forests is embarking on a new endeavor at Camillus Unique Area that will improve the habitat for grassland breeding birds and other animals.

It is well known to conservation biologists that habitat loss and degradation are the leading threats to vulnerable bird species in North America. Fragmentation of important bird habitat areas due to suburban sprawl is a key reason for the reduction in numbers and types of birds found in the state. Grassland birds are one of the fastest declining bird groups due to loss of grassland habitats which they are dependant on for breeding.

Beginning this summer, 80 acres of grass lands at Camillus Unique Area (CUA) will undergo a conversion process which will change the habitat from one that supports cool season grasses to one that supports warm season grasses, such as little bluestem, switch grass and Indian grasses. These grasses will better support grassland breeding birds such as the eastern Meadowlark, upland sandpiper, bobolink, vespar sparrow and grasshopper sparrow.

Warm summer grasses are important for grassland breeding birds for a number of reasons. For starters, warm season grasses tend to be more resistant to flattening during winter and therefore are available for nesting earlier in the season, for upland game birds, waterfowl and grassland birds. In addition, many grassland birds arrive in central New York in May, after the cool season grasses have started growing. Warm summer grasses, though, are still low to the ground and provide a more ideal nesting condition for breeding birds.

The first step in this habitat restoration project entails mowing 98 acres of fields, 80 of which will be prepared for the intensive field management needed to convert the acreage to warm season grasses. Mowing will occur this summer.

The second step occurs in September when competing vegetation on the 80 acres will be removed using herbicides. If required, herbicides may be spread again in the spring of 2009. This step is necessary to help prepare the fields for the planting of warm grasses the following spring. It also assists in providing the best growing conditions for the warm season grasses.

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