June — Baby birds underfoot

[Photo: Grasshopper Sparrow nest]

A Grasshopper Sparrow nest at one of FMRs restoration sites.

Photo by Karen Schik

Walking on a prairie at this time of year is risky business — especially for baby birds. Many prairie bird species nest on the ground, a reasonable choice given the general lack of trees on a prairie. Grasshopper sparrows and lark sparrows build grass nests that are amazingly well hidden, even in fairly open grasslands such as dry prairie. A woven grass nest placed under overhanging grasses is so well concealed that it can be hard to find, even when you know where it is. Mourning doves typically build nests in trees, but occasionally they nest on the ground, where weve nearly stepped on the perfectly camouflaged chicks, housed in a very loosely arranged stick nest. The drab-colored babies are well-camouflaged.

Grasshopper sparrows also tend to stay fairly concealed as adults. Most often seen just as theyre diving into the grass, the males do offer rare glimpses of their rather stubby form when they sing from perches. After hearing their non-musical, insect-like trill, its easy to understand the origin of their name. But the name also refers to the dominance of grasshoppers in their diet. Due to dramatic loss of habitat, grasshopper sparrows are listed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as one of the species of greatest conservation need. Grey Cloud Dunes SNA and Hastings Sand Coulee SNA are two sites in the Twin Cities where you can find this and other prairie bird species.

A fun fact from the Cornell website: Grasshopper Sparrow parents prepare grasshoppers to feed to the nestlings by shaking off each pair of legs in turn.

[Photo: Mourning dove chicks.]

Mourning dove chicks at the Sand Coulee SNA.

Photo by Karen Schik

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[Photo: Lark sparrow chicks.]

Lark sparrow chicks.

Photo by Karen Schik

[Photo: Grasshopper sparrow chicks]

A closer view of Grasshopper Sparrow chicks.

Photo by Karen Schik