Sagebrush Songbird Population Study

Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an annual invasive grass species that is identified as a threat to rangeland health and wildlife habitat quality, including the sagebrush ecosystems in southwest Montana. Managers and private citizens have noted dramatic expansions of cheatgrass across the region in the last 5–10 years. Cheatgrass can be readily found in many areas across the Centennial Valley, including areas of steep south facing aspects, and areas of disturbance, such as road ditches and fiber optic internet lines. Links between cheatgrass reducing native plants are well established, but effects of cheatgrass invasion on sagebrush birds are lacking. The purpose of this project is to understand how cheatgrass may be impacting abundance and demography of sagebrush obligate songbirds in southwest Montana. Fieldwork in the summer of 2018 included field validation of a cheatgrass suitability model, performing point counts and nest searches at points with varying levels of cheatgrass suitability, and finally, conducting vegetation surveys at both the point and nest level.

This project is important because: 1) ability to leverage existing work on cheatgrass and sagebrush birds and 2) a broad coalition of willing and motivated resources managers, landowners, and cattle producers alike are concerned with the current spread of cheatgrass occurring across southwest Montana.