Grasslands are among the most threatened and rare habitats in Connecticut. As a result, nine species of songbirds and four species of raptors that make use of grasslands as their primary breeding habitat are listed as threatened, endangered, or of special concern in the state. Increasing development pressures on two of Connecticut's most important grassland habitats—Rentschler Field in East Hartford and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks—exacerbates this situation.
Grasslands have been a part of the natural landscape of Connecticut for thousands of years. Prior to colonial settlement, as much as 20% of the state was grassland habitat. However, changes in agricultural land use and the simultaneous increase in urbanization in some areas and reforestation in other areas of the state have taken a toll on grassland habitats and the species that depend upon them. Today, there is less grassland habitat in Connecticut than at any other time in history, threatening further species loss and reducing Connecticut's biodiversity. This is consistent with a nationwide decrease in grassland habitat.
Managing for grassland species is challenging. Many grassland species have strict and differing habitat and area requirements. Contiguous habitat blocks of 200 acres or greater are required for some to nest successfully. Additionally, grasslands require maintenance to prevent natural succession from rendering them unsuitable for species that require this habitat. To combat the decline in grassland habitats Audubon Connecticut is working with farmers, land trusts, and state and municipal landowners to protect and expand shrub and grassland areas across Connecticut.
Owners and managers of grasslands need assistance to manage them effectively. Audubon Connecticut's centers and sanctuaries feature a diverse mix of grassland habitats and serve as important testing grounds for shrub and field management techniques, identifying best practices that other landowners can implement on their own properties. By modeling best practices in habitat management, Audubon is creating a blueprint for the effective, long-term stewardship of these unique habitats and the birds and other wildlife that depend on them.
For additional information on Audubon Connecticut's grassland conservation work, please contact the Sharon Audubon Center.