Amended Recovery Strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada – 2012

Species at Risk Act
Recovery Strategy Series

Photo: Sprague’s Pipit

Table of Contents

Document Information

List of Tables

List of Figures

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Document Information

Amended Recovery Strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada – 2012

Amended Recovery Strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada – 2012

Sprague’s Pipit

Photo: Sprague’s Pipit

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)?

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada. SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.”

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed, and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Sections 37–46 of SARA outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. A period of three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry.

Amended Recovery Strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada – 2012

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2012. Amended Recovery Strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. vi+ 44 pp.

Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SAR Public Registry.

Cover illustration: Sprague’s Pipit by  Bob Gress ©

Également disponible en français sous le titre
« Programme de rétablissement modifié du Pipit de Sprague (Anthus spragueii) au Canada »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2012. All rights reserved.
ISBN  978-1-100-18877-5
Catalogue no.  EN3-4/55-2012E-PDF

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.

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This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Sprague’s Pipit. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit, as required under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). This recovery strategy also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizations that may be involved in recovering the species.

The goals, objectives, and recovery approaches identified in the strategy are based on the best existing knowledge and are subject to modifications resulting from new findings and revised objectives.

This recovery strategy will be the basis for one or more action plans that will provide details on specific recovery measures to be taken to support conservation and recovery of the species. The Minister of the Environment will report on progress within five years, as required under SARA.

Success in the recovery of this species depends on the commitment and cooperation of many different constituencies that will be involved in implementing the directions set out in this strategy and will not be achieved by Environment Canada or any other jurisdiction alone. In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Sprague’s Pipit and Canadian society as a whole.

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Responsible Jurisdictions

Environment Canada
Parks Canada Agency
Government of Alberta
Government of Saskatchewan
Government of Manitoba

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This strategy was prepared by Stephen K. Davis and Susan P. Skinner, Canadian Wildlife Service – Prairie and Northern Region, Environment Canada. Amendments to the strategy were prepared by Stephen K. Davis, Canadian Wildlife Service – Prairie and Northern Region, Environment Canada.

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The authors thank the Sprague’s Pipit Recovery Team members for their advice and input in developing this recovery strategy. The authors appreciated the comments and editorial suggestions on the draft strategy received from B. Dale, R. Décarie, K. De Smet, D. Duncan, R. Franken, S. McAdam, D. Prescott, R. Sissons, and Joanne Tuckwell. Thanks go to N. Koper for providing information on research activities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. H. Bogard, K. Brewster, B. Dale, S. Davis, A. Didiuk, S. Duran, R. Fisher, M. Gollop, L. Hamilton, G. A. Henderson, Holroyd, S. James, J. Keith, N. Koper, R. Poulin, C. Punak‑Murphy, R. Sissons, S. Skinner, L. Strauss, G. Sutter, T. Wellicome, and K. White provided information on Sprague’s Pipit occurrence and abundance for the amendment. M. Curteanu, M. Wayland, D. Duncan, D. Henderson, and the Sprague’s Pipit Recovery Team provided guidance during the drafting of the amendment.

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Strategic Environmental Assessment

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally sound decision-making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

This recovery strategy will clearly benefit the environment by promoting the recovery of the Sprague’s Pipit. The potential for the strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species was considered. The SEA concluded that this strategy will clearly benefit the environment and will not entail any significant adverse effects. The reader should refer to the following sections of the document in particular: Description of the species’ habitat and biological needs, ecological role, and limiting factors; effects on other species; and the recommended approaches for recovery.

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SARA defines residence as: a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating [Subsection 2(1)].

Residence descriptions, or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SAR Public Registry.

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The Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) was designated Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 2000 and was officially listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in June 2003. SARA (Section 37) requires the competent Minister to prepare a recovery strategy for all listed extirpated, endangered, or threatened species. The Canadian Wildlife Service – Prairie and Northern Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy. It was developed in cooperation or consultation with the Parks Canada Agency, Department of National Defence, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Governments of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. In addition, all Aboriginal groups within the range of the Sprague’s Pipit in Canada were invited to comment on the strategy. All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and approved the strategy. The strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).

The Recovery Strategy for the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada was posted on the SAR Public Registry in May 2008. Under Section 45 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Minister of the Environment may amend a recovery strategy at any time. This recovery strategy was amended for the purposes of:

  • Identifying Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat.  Research and analysis of information gathered regarding critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit have advanced since the posting of the final Recovery Strategy for this species in 2008, allowing partial identification of critical habitat.
  • Revising the Schedule of Studies to identify critical habitat as a number of studies are still required before critical habitat identification can be completed.
  • Revising Environment Canada’s timelines of the action planning for the Sprague's Pipit.

This amendment replaces sections 2.7 and 2.11 of the recovery strategy that was posted in May 2008 as well making minor revisions to the Authors, Acknowledgments, Executive Summary, Recovery Objectives, Recovery Planning and Reference sections, and adding Appendices 2-5 to section 5.

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Executive Summary[4]

The Sprague’s Pipit is a small ground-nesting passerine endemic to the Northern Great Plains and was assessed as a threatened species in 2000 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). According to Canadian analyses of the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Sprague’s Pipit populations across Canada steadily declined (−3.1% per year) from 1968 to 2005; although prairie populations appear to have been relatively stable over the last 20 years, parkland populations continue to decline (−4.7% per year) over this same period. However, trend results from the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Grassland Bird Monitoring Program (GBM; 1996–2004) show a decline of 10.5% annually in the prairie region compared with a 1.8% annual decline measured by the BBS in Bird Conservation Region 11 for the same period. Given that much of the Sprague’s Pipit population occurs within the area monitored by the GBM (mean of 22.6 birds per route on GBM routes compared with 3.4 birds per route on BBS routes), a decline in this core area represents considerable risk for the species.

The loss and degradation of breeding habitat have been identified as key threats and limiting factors for this species throughout its range. Native prairie is critical for the survival and recovery of the Sprague’s Pipit. Inappropriate grassland management regimes (including idling and overgrazing) can result in an increase in invasive species and woody vegetation and can alter the structure of vegetation so that it is no longer attractive to pipits. Management through fire, grazing, or mowing is essential for maintaining suitable habitat, with the intensity and frequency of disturbance dependent upon soil productivity and climate. Sprague’s Pipits require relatively large areas (≥145 ha) of open grassland for breeding, rearing, and feeding and prefer grassland vegetation of intermediate height and density and few shrubs. Such areas tend to occur where habitats are lightly to moderately grazed or where vegetation is periodically removed by haying or burning. Sprague’s Pipits will breed in non-native grassland habitats in some regions with suitable vegetation structure, but numbers are lower in non-native grasslands than in native grasslands.

The recovery goals for the Sprague’s Pipit are to increase and then maintain population size and distribution at or above the 1980–1989 levels throughout the pipit’s historic range in Canada and to prevent further loss and degradation of native prairie within its historic range. The recovery goal will be achieved primarily through intensive and extensive grassland conservation initiatives, such as stewardship and management agreements, conservation easements, policy reform, and tax incentives. Education and communication programs targeted at youth, land managers, and the general public are needed to increase awareness of pipits and their habitat requirements. Identification of important breeding areas and critical habitat has been partially achieved. Research and monitoring will play important roles in the adaptive management process by ensuring that remaining critical habitat is identified and critical information gaps are filled, thus enabling recovery activities and goals to be evaluated.

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1. Background

1.1 Species Assessment Information from COSEWIC

Date of Assessment: May 2000

Common Name (population): Sprague’s Pipit

Scientific Name: Anthus spragueii

COSEWIC Status: Threatened

Reason for Designation: Although this species remains relatively common in suitable habitat, numbers have declined significantly in Canada and there is evidence of contraction of its range at the periphery. This species requires relatively large tracts of native grassland greater than 150 ha, which are increasingly rare in its breeding range.

Canadian Occurrence: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba

COSEWIC Status History: Designated Threatened in April 1999. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000. Last assessment based on an existing status report.

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1.2 Description

The Sprague’s Pipit is a small (15–17 cm, 23–25 g) ground-nesting passerine of the Northern Great Plains. It is a secretive bird that is rarely seen on the ground. Males are most often detected by their song, a series of slurred, descending notes delivered high from the ground: “zeer, zeer, zeer zeer zeer zeer” (Robbins 1998). Females are not typically seen unless flushed from a nest or if an observer is near a nest containing young (S. Davis, pers. obs.). At this point, both males and females may circle the intruder, giving their characteristic squeaky alarm call: “squeet.”

The species superficially resembles a sparrow, with its brown and white streaked plumage, and has several field marks that make it readily identifiable if observed in close proximity. The head is characterized by a thin bill and relatively large brown eyes; the breast is composed of a necklace of short streaks, while the belly and flanks are unmarked. The outer white tail feathers contrast markedly with the inner brown feathers and are most noticeable when the tail is fanned during flight. Females are slightly smaller than males, but otherwise sexes are similar in appearance (Robbins and Dale 1999).

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1.3. Populations and Distribution

1.3.1 Distribution

The Sprague’s Pipit is endemic to North America, where it breeds from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southern and central Alberta to southwestern Manitoba and south to southern Montana, northern South Dakota, and northwestern Minnesota (Figure 1; Robbins and Dale 1999). A single breeding record was recorded in the Riske Creek area of south-central British Columbia in 1991 (McConnell et al. 1993). The breeding range of the Sprague’s Pipit in Canada has contracted from the eastern and northern portions of its historic range in each of the three provinces (COSEWIC 2000). Overall, 60% of the continental breeding range of the Sprague’s Pipit occurs in Prairie Canada (CPPF 2004). Pipits winter in the southwestern United States (primarily Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona) and northern Mexico (Robbins and Dale 1999).

Figure 1. Distribution of the Sprague’s Pipit in North America
(from Robbins and Dale 1999).

Figure 1 shows the distribution of the Sprague’s Pipit in North and Central America. Two different colours were used to represent t the breeding range (Canadian Prairies and northern-central United-States) and the wintering range (southern-central United-States and down to Mexico). 

1.3.2 Population trends

The following information is based on U.S. analyses of the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data (Sauer et al. 2005). Pipit populations in Canada experienced a 4.8% annual decline between 1966 and 2005. In Alberta, pipits underwent an annual decline of 5.6% over this same period. Pipits also declined in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but estimates are more variable due to the smaller number of routes and birds, particularly in Manitoba. In the United States, pipit populations were relatively stable, whereas the North American population overall underwent a 4.1% annual decline between 1966 and 2005. Pipit populations in all jurisdictions and physiographic strata experienced their largest declines between 1966 and 1979, but they have not stabilized and have shown continued declines since 1980.

Figure 2. Current distribution of the Sprague’s Pipit within the prairie (yellow) and parkland/boreal transition (green) regions of the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture.

Figure 2 shows the Canadian distribution of the Sprague’s Pipit. Two different colours were used to represent the distribution occurring within the Prairies region and within the parkland/boreal transition region.

Canadian analyses of the BBS data (CWS 2006) also show Sprague’s Pipits to have declined in Canada from 1968 to 2005 (−3.1% per year), with declines evident in each of the Prairie provinces. A recent analysis (B. Collins, unpubl. data) of routes within the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture (Figure 2) indicates a 4.5% annual decline between 1970 and 2005. This appears to be driven by severe declines along the eastern and northern portions of the region (hereafter termed “parkland”): pipit populations in the prairie region underwent a 2.8% annual decline between 1970 and 2005, compared with a 6.4% decline in the parkland region (Figure 3). Furthermore, prairie populations appear to have been relatively stable over the last 20 years, whereas parkland populations continue to decline (−4.7% per year) when BBS results alone are examined. However, the BBS has sparse coverage in areas where the bulk of the remaining grassland occurs.

The Canadian Wildlife Service’s Grassland Bird Monitoring Program (GBM; Dale et al. 2003) uses BBS-type methodology on supplementary routes in those areas within the Mixed-grass Prairie ecoregion where grassland is still fairly common. Trend results for the GBM (1996–2004) show a decline of 10.5% annually compared with a 1.8% annual decline measured by the BBS in all of Bird Conservation Region (BCR) 11 for the same period (B. Dale and B. Collins, unpubl. data). Given that the bulk of the Sprague’s Pipit population occurs in this area (mean of 22.6 birds per route on 16 GBM routes compared with 3.4 birds per route on 70 BCR11 BBS routes), declines in this core area can have a large impact on the population. This pattern of stronger declines in areas of higher population is often observed in declining species (Rodriguez 2002).

Figure 3. Population trend of Sprague’s Pipits in the prairie and aspen parkland regions of Canada based on North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data. The red line indicates the 1980–1989 recovery target for Canada (see section 2.3).

Figure 3 shows a graph of the Breeding Bird Survey abundance (BBS) indices in function of time (year: from 1970 to 2004). Two lines were used to represent the prairie population and the parkland population. There‘s a lot of fluctuation from year to year but the general trend is decreasing since 1971. The red line indicates the 1980–1989 recovery target for Canada and the BBS indices is under that line since 1983.

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1.4 Needs of the Sprague’s Pipit

1.4.1 Habitat and biological needs

Native prairie is critical for the survival and recovery of Sprague’s Pipits. The species is rarely found in cultivated lands and is uncommon in most areas where native grasses have been replaced with introduced forage (Owens and Myres 1973; Davis et al. 1999; McMaster and Davis 2001). Territorial pipits have been recorded in some non-native grasslands where the structure of the vegetation is similar to that of native vegetation (Dale et al. 1997; Sutter and Brigham 1998; Davis and Duncan 1999). In Saskatchewan, Sprague’s Pipits have been documented nesting in non-native hayfields at Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area (S. Davis, unpubl. data), but not in hayfields in the Missouri Coteau (D. McMaster and S. Davis, unpubl. data). In general, Sprague’s Pipits prefer grassland vegetation of intermediate height (10–30 cm) and density and few shrubs (COSEWIC 2000). Such areas tend to occur where habitats are lightly to moderately grazed or where vegetation is periodically removed by haying or burning.

The amount of residual vegetation remaining from the previous year’s growth is a strong predictor of Sprague’s Pipit occurrence (Dale 1983; Davis and Duncan 1999) and where they locate their nests (Dieni and Jones 2003; Davis 2005). Sutter (1997) also found that pipit nests in southern Saskatchewan were located in relatively tall (27 cm), dense grasslands with low forb density and bare ground compared with random sites. In Saskatchewan, vegetation structure immediately surrounding the nest site had little influence on nest survival; however, nest survival did increase with increasing distance from shrubs (Davis 2005).

Sprague’s Pipits are also influenced by the size of grassland patches and likely by the amount of grassland in the landscape (Franken et al. 2003; Davis 2004; Skinner 2004). The number of Sprague’s Pipits recorded on BBS and GBM routes surrounded by more than 50% grassland was found to be 20.6 individuals per route compared with a mean of 3.2 individuals per route on routes with less than 50% grassland (B. Collins and B. Dale, unpubl. data). In southern Saskatchewan, pipits were absent on grassland patches smaller than 29 ha and had a 50% probability of occurring on patches at least 145 ha (95% confidence interval = 69–314 ha) in size; by definition, the latter patch size is considered to be their minimum size requirement (Davis 2004). Sprague’s Pipit abundance was also higher on patches with a smaller edge-to-area ratio. Moreover, Davis et al. (2006) found that Sprague’s Pipit density and the number of young fledged per successful nest were also positively related to grassland patch size.

1.4.2 Ecological role

Sprague’s Pipits are primarily insectivorous during the breeding season, consuming a variety of arthropods, such as grasshoppers, lepidopteran larvae, and spiders. Pipits and their eggs and young are also a source of food for predators, such as the Merlin (Falco columbarius), Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), American skunk (Mephitis mephitis), thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) and various small mammals (S. Davis, unpubl. data). Sprague’s Pipits are one of the few grassland songbirds that are endemic to the mixed-grass prairies of the Northern Great Plains (Knopf 1994). The highest populations have likely always occurred on the Canadian prairies. The Sprague’s Pipit is strongly associated with native grassland in good condition and is highly sensitive to anthropogenic changes in its breeding habitat. Thus, the Sprague’s Pipit is a good indicator of the health of the Canadian prairies and is a suitable flagship for other rare and endangered grassland species.

1.4.3 Limiting factors

Sprague’s Pipits require relatively large areas (>65 ha) of open grassland for breeding, rearing, and feeding. Management through fire, grazing, or mowing is essential for maintaining suitable habitat, with the ideal intensity and frequency of disturbance dependent upon soil productivity and climate (Robbins and Dale 1999). Breeding habitats located in more mesic regions and on productive soils are likely to require more frequent disturbance/management events than those in arid regions.

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1.5 Threats

Habitat loss and degradation, nest predation and parasitism, pesticides, and climate change are threats that currently limit Sprague’s Pipit populations or have great potential to limit them in the near future (Table 1).

1.5.1  Habitat loss

Recent information suggests that at least 75% of native grasslands on the Canadian prairies have been lost (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2001), primarily to cultivation, succession, road construction, gravel extraction, petroleum exploration and extraction, and settlement (i.e., urban and rural expansion). This has greatly reduced the quality and availability of suitable habitat for Sprague’s Pipits. Furthermore, resource exploration and extraction are expected to continue to be threats into the future as demands for resources increase globally. In some regions, pipits are known to breed in non-native grasslands, but their occurrence and abundance are lower than those of pipits found in native grassland (Dale et al. 1997; Sutter and Brigham 1998; Davis et al. 1999).

1.5.2  Habitat degradation

Complete loss of grassland habitat invariably results in Sprague’s Pipit populations disappearing from a given area. Habitat degradation (including fragmentation), on the other hand, typically reduces the population, but can lead to local extirpation if the magnitude, frequency, and duration of these threats are great enough.

Cultivation of grassland habitat in Prairie Canada has fragmented much of the remaining grassland, resulting in smaller, isolated patches of habitat (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2001). Although it is difficult to separate the effects of habitat loss from those of habitat fragmentation (Fahrig 2003), recent studies suggest that the Sprague’s Pipit is area-sensitive in terms of both abundance and demography (Franken et al. 2003; Skinner 2004; Davis 2004; Davis et al. 2006). In addition, Koper and Schmiegelow (2006) found Sprague’s Pipit abundance to be inversely correlated with distance to cropland, and Sutter et al. (2000) found this species to be more abundant along upland trails than along roadsides. Linear development and stretches of broken land are typically associated with invasion by exotic plants such as smooth brome (Bromus inermis), which reduces habitat suitability for Sprague’s Pipits (Robbins and Dale 1999). Thus, the increased amount of edge habitat resulting from fragmentation may be detrimental to pipits because of their association with interior habitats.

Successful management of grassland habitat often requires some form of disturbance. Idling grassland habitat will reduce its suitability for Sprague’s Pipits, particularly in more mesic portions of their range (e.g., Moist Mixed Grassland and Aspen Parkland ecoregions). While grazing, haying, and prescribed burning are necessary and effective tools to maintain and enhance breeding habitat for pipits, these activities can reduce habitat suitability if the timing, frequency, intensity, or duration of disturbance is inappropriate. Inappropriate management regimes (including idling and overgrazing) can result in an increase in invasive species and woody vegetation and can alter the structure of the vegetation so that it is no longer attractive to pipits.

The response of Sprague’s Pipits to grazing likely varies geographically, but the species generally avoids heavily grazed pastures (Maher 1973; Dale 1993; Prescott and Wagner 1996; Davis et al. 1999). Because livestock grazing occurs on most native grassland in Prairie Canada, Sprague’s Pipit populations could be susceptible to habitat degradation if prolonged periods of high-intensity grazing occur. Not only does overgrazing by livestock negatively influence vegetation structure, but, under high stocking densities, cattle may also reduce reproductive success through disturbance of breeding birds and trampling of nests (Kie and Loft 1990; Paine et al. 1996; Driscoll 2004).

Although Sprague’s Pipits are not common on planted hayfields, in areas where they do occur, haying during the nesting season may lower reproductive success through mechanical destruction of nests and adults or by reducing overhead vegetative cover and exposing nests to predators and inclement weather (Dale et al. 1997).

Sprague’s Pipits have evolved with periodic fires on the prairies and may therefore be limited by the reduced fire frequencies that have accompanied human settlement. Subsequent encroachment by woody vegetation and invasive exotics and excessive accumulation of litter have degraded breeding habitat in many areas. Prescribed burning can have adverse short-term effects on Sprague’s Pipit abundance and occurrence (Pylypec 1991), but this may be offset by long-term benefits through improved habitat quality. Maher (1973) recorded large increases in Sprague’s Pipit populations two years after a burn in Saskatchewan. Madden (1996) found that pipits did not occur on North Dakota grasslands that had not been burned for over eight years and that breeding abundance was highest two to seven years after a fire. In more arid regions, pipits were common on native pastures that had not been burned for more than 15 years (Sutter 1996; Dale et al. 1997). Thus, the effects of burning likely vary with burning frequency, soil type, and moisture regimes (Robbins and Dale 1999).

1.5.3  Nest predation / nest parasitism

Predation is the most prominent factor reducing the reproductive success of Sprague’s Pipits (Davis and Sealy 2000; Davis 2003, unpubl. data; Jones and Dieni, in press). Although it is difficult to ascertain whether current predation rates are higher than historic levels, changes in predator communities, habitat structure, and landscape composition and configuration of remaining grassland habitat have likely increased the risk of predation (Phillips et al. 2004; Horn et al. 2005). Sprague’s Pipits nesting in small habitat patches near edges may suffer reduced productivity because of increased activity of nest predators and Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) (Gates and Gysel 1978; Johnson and Temple 1986, 1990). In southwestern Manitoba, 18% of pipit nests were parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds, with parasitism occurring only on the smallest (22 ha) site (Davis and Sealy 2000). In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, cowbirds reduced pipit clutch size and hatching success, with an overall cost of 1.3–1.6 young per parasitized nest (Davis and Sealy 2000; Davis 2003). The cost of parasitism to the Canadian pipit population overall, however, may be small, as parasitism rates have been reported to be lower elsewhere (Davis 2003, unpubl. data).

1.5.4   Pollution


Pesticides are used to control weeds, insects, and burrowing mammal populations on agricultural land. Although these chemicals do not target Sprague’s Pipits, they may have negative consequences if ingested indirectly through prey or if the chemicals reduce food supplies at a critical period of the nesting cycle. Anecdotal observations suggest that Sprague’s Pipits may occasionally forage in cropland and thus could be exposed to pesticides (Martin et al. 2005). However, the amount of time pipits could be exposed to pesticides during the breeding and non-breeding season is unknown.

Industrial noise

Industrial noise has been found to cause reduced pairing success and influence age structure of breeding birds (Habib et al. 2007).  Expanding energy development in grassland regions may result in increased noise levels and subsequently interfere with male song.  The effect of anthropogenic noise on Sprague’s Pipit breeding success has yet to be determined.

1.5.5  Climate change

Climate change models predict more variable and severe weather events (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2001). Prolonged droughts result in reduced numbers of birds recorded on BBS routes (B. Dale, pers. comm.) and could reduce reproductive output (George et al. 1992). Similarly, prolonged periods of cool and wet weather can also reduce productivity of Sprague’s Pipits. During the 2004–2006 breeding seasons at Last Mountain Lake, for example, over 90% of active nests failed during periods of cool wet weather (S. Davis, unpubl. data). Nest failure was attributed to flooding and to young dying from exposure or starvation. The impact at a population level is unknown, but prolonged inclement weather may impact local populations.

Table 1. Summary of threats to Sprague’s Pipit populations on Canadian breeding grounds.
Threat categoryGeneral threatSpecific threatStressExtentOccurrenceFrequencyCausal certaintySeverityLevel of concern
Habitat loss or degradationCrop or forage productionConversion of native grassland to other coverLocal extinctionWidespreadCurrentOngoingHighHighHigh
Crop or forage productionReduced vegetation growth due to conversion of Class 1–3 soilsReduced resource availabilityWidespreadCurrentOngoingLowMediumLow
• Linear development (e.g., roads, pipelines)
• Resource extraction
Reduction of interior habitat, increased edgeReduced resource availabilityWidespreadCurrentOngoingLowUnknownLocal – high
Range-wide –medium
• Linear development (e.g., roads, pipelines)
• Resource extraction
Alteration of plant community or structural diversityReduced population size and viabilityWidespreadCurrentOngoingLocal – high
Range-wide – low
UnknownLocal – high
Range-wide –medium
Invasion by woody or exotic speciesAlteration of plant community or structural diversityReduced resource availability to local extinctionWidespreadCurrentContinuousHighMediumHigh
Inappropriate or insufficient disturbance
• Grazing
• Burning
• Mowing
Alteration of plant community or structural diversityReduced resource availability to local extinctionWidespreadCurrentContinuous HighLocal – high
Range-wide – unknown
Local – high
Range-wide –medium
Water impoundmentHabitat conversionReduced resource availabilityUnknownCurrentOngoingLowUnknownLow
UrbanizationHabitat conversionLocal extinctionLocalizedCurrentOngoingLocal – high
Range-wide – low
Local – high
Range-wide – low
Local – high
Range-wide –low
HayingMortality of adults and youngReduced productivityLocalizedCurrentOngoingMediumLowLow
Nest predation or parasitismAltered prey and nest parasitism dynamicsIncreased predation; egg removal by cowbirdsReduced productivityWidespreadWidespreadSeasonalMediumLocal – moderate
Range-wide – unknown
PollutionExposure to pesticides and herbicidesPesticide loading and direct exposureReduced fitnessWidespreadCurrentContinuousLowUnknownLow
Industrial (noise, light)Behavioural and social disruptionReduced productivityLocalizedCurrentOngoingLowUnknownLow
Climate changeDrier and warmerReduced primary productivityReduced resource availabilityWidespreadCurrent and anticipatedOngoingLocal – medium
Range-wide – low
Increased severe weather eventsNest failure due to inclement weatherReduced productivityWidespreadCurrent and anticipatedOngoingLocal – medium
Range-wide – low

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1.6 Actions Already Completed or Under Way

Sprague’s Pipit status reports for Canada (COSEWIC 2000) and Alberta (Prescott 1997) have been written, and the Sprague’s Pipit Recovery Team was formed in 2004. Recovery efforts to date are primarily associated with monitoring and applied research. Although the BBS has provided long-term population trends throughout the prairie region, these trends may not be reliable in grassland-dominated landscapes where BBS coverage is inadequate. Consequently, the GBM was established in 1996 to increase survey coverage and to improve population trend estimates of grassland species in Alberta and Saskatchewan (Dale et al. 2003). Similarly, priority grassland bird surveys on federal lands (e.g., National Wildlife Areas, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration pastures, Department of National Defence lands, and Grasslands National Park) in Saskatchewan and Alberta monitor local populations and refine the status, distribution, and abundance of pipits in these areas. The Manitoba Conservation Data Centre has collected and collated Sprague’s Pipit occurrence data from 1987 to 2006. A federal database has been established to manage and distribute Sprague’s Pipit data collected by various agencies across the prairie region in Canada and the United States.

Past research in Canada has focused primarily on distribution, habitat use, area requirements, and productivity in grasslands (Dale et al. 1997; Sutter and Brigham 1998; Davis et al. 1999, 2006; Davis and Sealy 2000; McMaster and Davis 2001; Davis 2003, 2004, 2005; McMaster et al. 2005; Koper and Schmiegelow 2006a, 2006b). Currently, researchers are investigating 1) the influence of landscape composition on Sprague’s Pipit use of and productivity on native and non-native habitat in Saskatchewan and Alberta, 2) the effects of grazing on pipit abundance and nest success in Grasslands National Park, and 3) the effects of habitat edges on pipit densities in southern Alberta. In addition, researchers are examining whether other grassland bird species are possible surrogates of pipit nesting success and developing predictive models to guide management of federal lands. Research on nesting habitat requirements, diet, survival of nests, juveniles, and adults, territory size, and renesting propensity in Saskatchewan is also ongoing (S. Davis, unpubl. data). This intensive research will provide much-needed information to land managers, allowing for more informed decisions regarding future management and protection of seeded and native grasslands.

The Alberta grassland bird modelling project (Franken et al. 2003) and the draft Decision Support System for Priority Bird Species in the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture (S. Davis and B. Dale, unpubl. data) have modelled BBS and GBM Sprague’s Pipit occurrence data as a function of multiple landscape features. Both models suggest that Sprague’s Pipit occurrence is related to grassland area and soil types. These models can be refined to help identify additional critical pipit breeding habitat.

Finally, many larger prairie conservation initiatives at federal (e.g., Agricultural Policy Framework), provincial (e.g., Prairie Conservation Action Plans), and non-governmental organization levels are committed to the identification, restoration, and conservation of priority grasslands and to promoting voluntary stewardship and improving land use management. These projects will positively contribute to pipit recovery and conservation across the Canadian prairie region.

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1.7 Knowledge Gaps

Several knowledge gaps exist for Sprague’s Pipits in Canada. Information that is currently unknown but required to adequately address threats and recovery objectives is outlined below:

  1. Oil and gas and wind energy development activities have greatly increased in southeastern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. Many of these activities are taking place on the remaining large parcels of native grassland. However, it is unknown what direct and indirect effects these activities have on density, survival, and productivity of pipits.
  2. Although pipits are most abundant on native grassland, they will breed in tame forages in some regions of Prairie Canada; however, the conditions under which this occurs are unknown. Furthermore, it is not known whether these anthropogenic habitats act as an ecological source or sink or whether management (and if so, what type of management) improves habitat suitability, reproductive success, and survival of pipits.
  3. Pipits rarely use cropland as breeding habitat. However, pipits may forage in cropland and be exposed to pesticide applications during migration. The risk to pipits of pesticide exposure on breeding, migration, and wintering grounds is unknown.
  4. The current status of migration and wintering habitats is unknown, along with the factors that threaten the quantity and quality of these habitats.
  5. An increasing number of conservation and agricultural programs are encouraging use of native species in converting cropland to perennial cover. It is unknown whether native grassland can be created or restored such that the new habitat is attractive and productive for pipits.
  6. Pipit populations are monitored by the BBS program, but no large-scale program monitors native grassland habitat. Determining the quantity and quality of grassland habitat and monitoring changes in quantity and quality over time are required to assess whether recovery efforts are successful.
  7. The primary factors causing population declines in different regions of Prairie Canada (e.g., relative effects of habitat loss and degradation, pesticide exposure, predation, etc., in prairie and parkland) are currently unknown.
  8. Pipits have been shown to be area-sensitive, but results are from a single study in Saskatchewan. It is unknown whether (and if so, how) density and reproductive success vary with patch size and landscape factors (e.g., amount of native and tame grassland, cropland, wetlands, and woody vegetation) in different regions and at different times.
  9. The lack of population estimates limits our ability to develop habitat objectives for the Sprague’s Pipit. Developing and refining the best method to derive population estimates will allow setting of meaningful habitat objectives.

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2. Recovery

2.1 Recovery Feasibility

Recovery of this species is considered technically and biologically feasible if limiting factors and threats are adequately addressed. Although native grassland habitat may be limited in many regions, sufficient suitable grassland habitat is likely available in Canada, and the potential to rehabilitate and maintain suitable habitat is high. Furthermore, Sprague’s Pipits have shown the capacity to expand into new areas once suitable habitat is available. For example, pipits will occupy non-native grassland sites that were previously cultivated if vegetation structure is appropriate (Dale et al. 1997; Sutter and Brigham 1998; Davis and Duncan 1999). However, numbers are lower in these habitats, and planted cover in most areas appears to be unsuitable (McMaster and Davis 2001). In addition, pipits have been observed occupying previously unused habitat later in the breeding season after it was grazed or hayed (Owens and Myres 1973; S. Davis, unpubl. data).

Conserving remaining contiguous grassland habitat and implementing appropriate management will help mitigate threats to habitat. Long-term protection and management of habitat might be more readily achieved on public land, but collaboration with all landholders would allow for a wider range of habitat values to be provided in the landscape, thereby benefiting a wider array of species.

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2.2 Recovery Goals

  1. Increase and maintain population size and distribution of the Sprague’s Pipit at or above mean abundance levels experienced during the 1980–1989 time period throughout the pipit’s historic range in Canada (Table 2).
  2. Prevent further loss and degradation of native prairie within the historic range of the species.

Agricultural census data indicate that the cultivation rate of natural grasslands stabilized during the mid-1980s (Statistics Canada 1997). Furthermore, the 1980s were characterized by a mix of wet and dry periods. Given the affinity of the Sprague’s Pipit for native grassland and population-level responses to environmental conditions, the mean abundance for 1980–1989 was considered to be a meaningful population benchmark for recovery. It is assumed that population declines after 1990 may be related to habitat degradation or other unknown factors that may be occurring on the breeding or wintering grounds. These recovery goals recognize that while we can not return to a condition prior to the intensive cultivation of the Canadian prairies, it is possible to meaningfully improve the status of the species and address ongoing declines in abundance and in the distribution of habitat. Increasing populations to 1980–1989 levels may be logistically feasible and biologically reasonable over the long term (i.e., 30 years).

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2.3 Population and Distribution Objectives

Population objectives for Sprague’s Pipit in Canada are given in Table 2 (see Appendix 1 for methods used to derive population objectives).

Table 2. Population objectives (mean number of birds per route) derived from Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data for prairie and parkland regions and the Prairie provinces.1
RegionCurrent BBS index2 (1996–2005)Target BBS index (1980–1989)Population increase required to meet 1980s objective
Prairie Canada1.94.62.4×
Prairie region3.64.01.1×
Parkland region1.04.04.0×

1 Low sample sizes from Manitoba yield trend and abundance estimates that are unreliable but are presented for comparison with other provinces.
2 BBS index = mean number of birds per route

Distribution objectives will be partly realized through accomplishment of population objectives in each jurisdiction and ecoregion. However, fully accomplishing these objectives requires that Sprague’s Pipits be recorded in regions where they have occurred since the 1980s.

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2.4 Recovery Objectives[5]

Over the next five years, progress towards the recovery goals will be achieved by the following:

  1. Ensure that all larger prairie conservation programs and land use planning processes integrate Sprague’s Pipit recovery needs.
  2. Ensure that prairie landowners and other key target audiences are aware of Sprague’s Pipit ecology, habitat requirements, habitat management, and recovery strategies.
  3. Ensure that recovery partners are aware of the perceptions, attitudes, and needs of landowners and managers, land users, and the general public.
  4. Identify and conserve additional critical habitat in Prairie Canada.
  5. Understand the current status of both breeding and wintering habitats.
  6. Reduce conservation and land use uncertainties through robust monitoring and science programs.

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2.5 Approaches Recommended to Meet Recovery Objectives[6]

2.5.1 Recovery planning

Table 3 outlines recovery actions that are required to achieve Sprague’s Pipit recovery goals and objectives

Table 3. Activities required to mitigate threats and work towards achieving recovery objectives.
PriorityRecovery Objective No(s).Threats addressedBroad strategy to address threatsRecommended approaches to meet recovery objectivesOutcomes or deliverables
Urgent4Habitat loss/degradationHabitat conservationIdentify and prioritize important breeding habitat areas and create a process to identify critical habitat.Candidate sites are identified, and a process for identifying critical habitat is identified and shared with recovery partners.
Urgent4Habitat loss/degradationHabitat conservationDefine and delineate critical habitat (see Table 5, schedule of studies).Critical habitat is identified and delineated.
Necessary2–4Habitat loss/degradationHabitat conservationIdentify and implement conservation strategies for sites with critical habitat (policy reform, tax relief, easements, stewardship, acquisition, etc.).Conservation strategies are identified and implemented.
Necessary1–4Habitat loss/degradationHabitat conservationIdentify land use guidelines and practices that benefit pipits, and provide input to inform and influence land use decisions and policies that affect grassland habitat.Habitat requirements of pipits are incorporated into federal and provincial land use guidelines.
Urgent2–4Habitat loss/degradationHabitat restoration and managementIdentify priority areas to target restoration activities. Develop, promote, and implement appropriate restoration and management tools to improve and maintain the quality of breeding habitat.Suitable habitat is created/restored where cost-effective and appropriate.
Necessary2, 3Habitat loss/degradationHabitat restoration and managementIdentify areas where haying of pipit habitat is common, and establish and implement guidelines for haying during the breeding season. Determine whether incentives are required to offset costs to producers.Haying on Sprague’s Pipit breeding sites is delayed to reduce nestling, fledgling, and adult mortality without economic hardship to producers.
Necessary3Habitat loss/degradationPublic outreachGather information regarding factors influencing management decisions by landowners/stakeholders and provide to wildlife managers.Wildlife managers are more knowledgeable about factors influencing land use management decisions, resulting in enhanced and maintained habitat for pipits via improved relations between landowners and wildlife managers.
Necessary1Habitat loss/ degradationPublic outreachIntegrate recovery strategy with other federal and provincial species at risk recovery plans and grassland conservation initiatives.Pipit recovery actions are integrated into landscape-level conservation initiatives.
Necessary1–3Habitat loss/ degradationPublic outreachIncorporate Sprague’s Pipit communication into existing prairie conservation education programs.Schoolchildren have an increased awareness of pipits and their habitat requirements.
Necessary2Habitat loss/degradationPublic outreachEducate the general public in urban centres about Sprague’s Pipit and grassland habitat and their role in prairie conservation.General public has an increased awareness of pipits and their habitat requirements.
Necessary4, 6Habitat loss/degradationResearchDetermine whether (and if so, how) density and reproductive success vary with patch size and landscape factors (e.g., amount of native and tame grassland, cropland, wetlands, and woody vegetation) in different regions and at different times.Study results lead to identification of critical habitat.
Necessary4, 6Habitat loss/degradationResearchDetermine the direct and indirect effects of oil and gas activity and wind energy development on density, survival, and productivity of pipits.Impact of oil and gas and wind energy development activities is determined, and appropriate guidelines are developed if necessary.
Necessary4-6Habitat loss/degradationResearchDetermine whether non-native grassland habitats act as ecological sources or sinks and whether management (and if so, what type of management) improves habitat suitability, reproductive success, and survival of pipits.Importance of non-native habitats is determined, thus refining the identification of critical habitat.
Necessary6Habitat loss/degradationResearchDetermine whether native grassland can be created or restored such that the new habitat is attractive and productive for pipits.Restoration techniques are developed and implemented to recover pipit populations in areas that have experienced much habitat loss.
Necessary4, 6Habitat loss/degradationResearchDevelop and refine the best method to derive population estimates.Population estimates result in setting of habitat objectives and identification of how much critical habitat is required.
Beneficial6Climate changeResearchGain an understanding of population fluctuations and demographic consequences of changing weather patterns.Improved knowledge of annual variation in population size and resiliency of Sprague’s Pipit to climate change.
Necessary5, 6PollutionResearchDetermine risk of exposure to pesticides on breeding, migration, and wintering habitats.Improved understanding of whether pesticides are a potentially important threat to Sprague’s Pipit.
Necessary5, 6Habitat loss/degradationResearchIn cooperation with other researchers and agencies, quantitatively describe migration and wintering habitats and define essential habitat components; determine site fidelity; determine how much habitat remains and its protection status; determine significance of migration and wintering habitat threats to the Canadian population.Identification of important migration and wintering habitat elements and their relative significance.
Necessary6NAInventory and monitoringEvaluate need to create new habitat monitoring programs or augment existing programs to ensure that important pipit habitat is covered.The most cost-effective means of monitoring pipit habitat is identified and implemented.
Necessary6Habitat loss/degradationInventory and monitoringDetermine the quantity and quality of grassland habitat, and monitor changes in quantity and quality over time.Habitat quantity and quality are monitored, thus facilitating assessment of whether or not recovery efforts are successful.
Beneficial6NAInventory and monitoringEncourage and solicit volunteer participation in the BBS and increase the number of trained observers and routes in grassland habitat.A greater number of routes and sites are monitored by trained surveyors within the Sprague’s Pipit breeding range, resulting in improved population trend estimates.
Necessary6Habitat loss/degradationResearchEstablish long-term study plots to monitor demographic parameters.Monitoring of demographic rates improves our understanding of life history and population ecology of pipits and provides insight into population trends.

2.5.2 Narrative to support recovery planning table

Conservation activities that maintain and improve the integrity of native grassland habitat are of the utmost importance in recovering pipit populations. Although 75% of the native grassland has been lost, the amount of potentially suitable habitat for Sprague’s Pipits is still great. Thus, a strategic approach to conserving grassland habitat is essential. A method for identifying important breeding areas and critical habitat is required to effectively prioritize recovery actions. Conservation and restoration of native prairie may be realized through incentive programs, stewardship and management agreements, conservation easements, and land purchase. Extensive programs, such as extension, policy reform, and tax incentives, will also play a large role in conserving and maintaining good quality grassland habitat. Communication and outreach are considered a high priority because of the limited public profile and awareness of the Sprague’s Pipit. Education programs targeted to youth, landowners and managers, and the general public are needed to increase awareness of pipits and their habitat requirements. Research and monitoring will play important roles in the adaptive management process by ensuring that remaining critical habitat is identified and critical information gaps are filled, enabling recovery activities and goals to be evaluated.

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2.6 Performance Measures

Performance measures used to determine whether Sprague’s Pipit recovery objectives (see section 2.4) are being met are shown in Table 4.

Table 4. Performance measures used to determine whether Sprague’s Pipit recovery objectives are being met.
Performance measureObjective No(s).
Satellite imagery and data from programs like the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture habitat monitoring program will be used to document trends in the amount of grassland habitat over time. Similar programs will be identified through collaboration with U S and Mexican partners to identify, assess and monitor habitat on the wintering grounds.4–6
Communication and extension programs: uptake of management guidelines, number of schools and students reached, number and type of communication products (media ads, posters, brochures, etc.).2, 3
Integration of recovery efforts will be considered successful if there is at least one joint recovery team/implementation group meeting/workshop with prairie species at risk specialists by 2009; integration will also be measured by the number of initiatives and groups involved in delivering conservation activities enhancing Sprague’s Pipit recovery.1
Research-related initiatives will be considered successful when at least one study has been completed that addresses each of the knowledge gaps and when results are used to guide recovery planning and implementation.6
Canada-wide BBS trends and abundance indices will be used to evaluate whether distribution and population targets are being met; avian checklist, bird atlas, and collated sightings from bird enthusiasts will assist in refining and monitoring the extent of breeding distribution in Canada.6

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2.7 Critical Habitat[7]

Critical habitat is defined in the Species at Risk Act section 2(1) as “the habitat that is necessary for the survival or recovery of a listed wildlife species and that is identified as the species’ critical habitat in the recovery strategy or in an action plan for the species”.

Ideally, critical habitat would be identified based on a range-wide analysis of the amount, locations, and attributes of habitat required to meet the population and distribution objectives for the species. The identification of critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit is complicated due to 1) the species’ broad distribution within Prairie Canada, 2) the paucity of information regarding occurrence and abundance of the species, and 3) the annual variation in the species’ occurrence and abundance.

At this time, based on the best available information, critical habitat is partially identified for Sprague’s Pipit in south-eastern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan. 

The following approaches were used to partially identify critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit in Canada.

2.7.1 Approaches to Identifying Critical Habitat

The original recovery strategy outlined a number of steps and studies that needed to be undertaken before critical habitat could be identified (Environment Canada 2008). Progress has since been made on five of the items: 1) establishing a database with the abundance and location of Sprague’s Pipits across Prairie Canada (Davis unpubl. data), 2) developing a protocol to identify sites as potential critical habitat, 3) developing and refining predictive models of pipit occurrence using existing data (Dale unpubl. data, Davis unpubl. data), 4) determining how response to patch size and landscape factors varies temporally and spatially ( Fisher 2010, Davis et al. unpubl. data), and 5) identifying factors influencing use and reproductive success in non-native habitats (Dohms 2009, Fisher and Davis 2011a, Davis unpubl. data). Results from these studies have contributed to the identification of the three sites herein identified as containing critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit.

Sprague’s Pipit occurrence and abundance data was compiled from a number of sources across Prairie Canada including government and non-government biologists, academics, and provincial data repositories (Saskatchewan and Manitoba Conservation Data Centre, Alberta Fish and Wildlife Information Management System, and Alberta Conservation Information Management System). The following criteria and approaches were used to identify sites containing critical habitat:

Approach 1: Where occupancy and demographic information exists, sites (e.g., quarter- sections), or portions of sites, that had a reasonable chance of having breeding pipits were identified.  Identification of sites was based on persistence (singing males recorded in at least two of the past five years), density (≥ 5 singing males/100 ha), and confirmation of breeding (nests or fledged young recorded) in the past five years. While this is the preferred approach for identifying Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat, data meeting these criteria were only available for two sites (see Section 2.7.2 below).

Approach 2: In the absence of sufficient occupancy and demographic information, identification of critical habitat was guided by spatially explicit predictive models where reliable and current data existed for a given area. Because the species has undergone substantial population declines and distribution shifts, only data collected within the past 10 years was used to avoid erroneously identifying historic breeding sites that are no longer suitable for Sprague’s Pipits. Reliance on predictive models was necessary because surveys and observations of pipits are widely scattered and tend to sample only a small proportion of a given area. Use of predictive models is a precautionary approach that allows one to determine the potential suitability of sites which were not sampled but can reasonably be expected to be inhabited by pipits. Models were validated to ensure reasonable usefulness for identifying critical habitat. This approach was used to identify Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat for one site where suitable data was available (see Section 2.7.2 below).

2.7.2 Site Selection

Information was sufficient to identify Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat using approach 1 in portions of Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area (NWA), the adjacent Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Nokomis Community Pasture, and Grasslands National Park (GNP), Saskatchewan, while approach 2 was used to identify critical habitat in Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Suffield NWA, Alberta. Information was sufficient at these sites due to the existence of long-term grassland bird research and monitoring activities which did not exist in other areas.  Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data was not used because it does not provide the necessary spatial location of individual birds or habitat information required for an identification of critical habitat.  However, BBS data may be useful for developing range-wide predictive models that could facilitate future exercises to locate and identify critical habitat.  Further analyses and models are required to identify additional sites throughout the species range (see Table 5: Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat).

Southern Saskatchewan 

Last Mountain Lake NWA and AAFC Nokomis Community Pasture (Site 1)

Sprague’s Pipit occurrence and abundance have been quantified at Last Mountain Lake NWA for 9 years from 1980-1997 (Dale 1983, Sutter 1996, Dale et al. 1997). More recent monitoring (2004-2009) has focused on quantifying pipit reproductive success on a number of sites at both the NWA and the adjacent Nokomis Community Pasture (Davis and Fisher 2009, Dohms 2009, Dohms and Davis 2009, Brewster 2009, Fisher and Davis 2011a, Davis unpubl. data). Sprague’s Pipit surveys conducted in 2007 (Strauss 2007) along the eastern and western portions of the NWA indicated that pipits were much less common than in the 1980s and 1990s.  Changes in abundance and distribution appeared to be due to substantial changes in vegetation structure and composition in the NWA, likely due to increased moisture levels and lack of disturbance by fire and/or grazing. Therefore, locations of all territorial males and nests from 2004-2009 were plotted in a Geo-referenced Information System (GIS) to identify areas known to be used by Sprague’s Pipits on the NWA and the adjacent community pasture. Portions of quarter- sections (Appendix 3) known to be used by breeding pipits and containing suitable biophysical attributes (see Section 2.7.3 below) are identified as critical habitat.

Grasslands National Park (Site 2)

Sprague’s Pipit abundance and reproductive success has been quantified within the East Block of Grassland National Park since 2007 (Lusk 2009). Surveyors recorded the locations of all singing males and nests in six study plots. These locations were plotted in a GIS to identify areas known to be used by breeding Sprague’s Pipits. Portions of quarter-sections containing these locations were identified (Appendix 4) and portions containing suitable biophysical attributes (see Section 2.7.3 below) are identified as critical habitat.


Canadian Forces Base Suffield NWA (Site 3)

Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area (CFB Suffield NWA) is a protected area under the Canada Wildlife Act managed by the Department of National Defense; military exercises do not occur within the NWA. Grassland bird surveys were conducted at the NWA for 12 years during the period 1994-2009 (Dale et al. 1999, Wiens et al. 2008, Dale unpubl. data). Results from these surveys indicate that Sprague’s Pipits occur in the area annually and over a large portion of the NWA. However, because of the presence of anthropogenic features (e.g. roads and natural gas infrastructure) and unsuitable habitat (e.g., shrubs, wetlands, open sand dunes) the entire area is not comprised of suitable habitat for Sprague’s Pipit. Intensive surveys conducted in the area over multiple years permitted an area-specific habitat model to be developed for the Suffield NWA to facilitate the identification of areas within the NWA that are suitable for this species. The model was developed and tested using 5 years of data (2000-2004) collected from the southern block of the NWA (Appendix 2). The data were collected within a broad range of precipitation conditions (from severe drought to above normal precipitation). Two additional years of data (2005 and 2006) collected in both the southern block and northern block of the NWA (Appendix 2) were used to validate the model. The model is adapted from the methodology outlined in Wiens et al. (2008). The model was not developed for portions of CFB Suffield outside of the NWA or for other land located near the NWA at this time due to the lack of data available for model development and validation, and because land-use and habitat features in those areas are different than those found in the NWA.

Results from the Suffield NWA habitat model and the extensive coverage of known locations of territorial males indicate that most areas of the south block are used by Sprague’s Pipits (CWS unpubl. data).  Furthermore, the model indicates that many areas within the north block also contain critical habitat. Although all habitat suitability classes (relative probabilities 0.1‑1.0) were used by Sprague’s Pipits in at least one of the five years, habitat suitability classes ≥0.6 had over 50% use overall suggesting that these areas are suitable for pipits (CWS unpubl. data); this threshold (0.6) was thus used for identifying critical habitat for Sprague's Pipit in CFB  Suffield NWA

2.7.3 Location of Critical Habitat and Habitat Attributes

Critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit was partially identified to the extent possible based on best available information in 767 quarter-sections[8] at Suffield NWA in Alberta, 8 quarter-sections within Last Mountain Lake NWA, 5 quarter-sections in Nokomis Community Pasture, and 43 quarter-sections in Grassland National Park (GNP) in Saskatchewan. Quarter-sections that contain critical habitat are listed in Appendix 5 for each site.

Within the identified quarter-sections, the following biophysical attributes comprise critical habitat of Sprague’s Pipit (Dale 1983, Dale et al. 1997, Davis 2004, 2005; Davis and Duncan 1999, Davis et al. 1999, 2006, unpubl. data, Dieni and Jones 2003, Madden 1996, Sutter and Brigham 1998, Sutter et al. 2000, Koper et al. 2009):

  • open areas of upland native prairie ≥ 65 ha
  • native prairie management units in fair to excellent range condition (Abouguendia 1990)
  • limited woody vegetation
  • limited invasion by exotic grasses
  • flat to gently rolling topography

It is not currently possible to provide the specific amounts or levels of all of these critical habitat attributes required by Sprague’s Pipits. Work to develop an understanding of such levels and thresholds in quantifiable terms is included in a schedule of studies.

Critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit excludes unsuitable habitat (e.g., dense patches of woody vegetation, open sand dunes, coulees, riparian areas, water bodies, grasslands planted with non-native species, eroded slopes, badlands), existing infrastructure (e.g., roads, gas and oil wells, buildings, pipelines, fence lines, and watering sites) and perennial watering and salting sites for livestock.

The critical habitat identified in this document is necessary for Sprague’s Pipit survival and recovery in Canada. However, further work is required to identify additional critical habitat necessary to support the population and distribution objectives for recovery of the species. Studies to identify additional critical habitat are outlined in Section 2.7.5. Additional critical habitat will be identified in one or more action plans as new information becomes available.

2.7.4 Examples of Activities Likely to Result in Destruction of Critical Habitat

Land management and stewardship activities of various agencies and local residents have conserved native grassland habitat suitable for this species. For example, many range management practices for the production of livestock on native prairie are compatible with Sprague’s Pipit breeding habitat. Practices which maintain moderate amounts of residual cover with a patchy distribution and do not result in large increases in the amount of bare ground, shrub or non-native plants, or cause rangelands to degrade to poor range condition, are compatible with Sprague’s Pipits. However, there are other human activities which may result in the destruction of critical habitat.

Destruction is determined on a case by case basis. Destruction would result if part of the critical habitat were degraded, either permanently or temporarily, such that it would not serve its function when needed by the species. Destruction may result from single or multiple activities at one point in time or from the cumulative effects of one or more activities over time.

For example, Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat may be destroyed by anthropogenic activities that have the following effects (see Dale 1983, Davis et al. 1999, Davis and Duncan 1999, Davis 2005, Linnen 2008, Dale et al. 2009, Fisher and Davis 2011b):

  • loss of native vegetation or disturbance of soil substrate
  • degradation of native prairie to poor range condition
  • excessive increase in bare ground
  • establishment and growth of woody vegetation as a result of intentional plantings
  • establishment and growth of exotic plant species as a result of intentional plantings (e.g., crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum, brome grass (Bromus spp.), alfalfa (Medicago spp.), sweet clover (Melilotus spp.), and leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula))
  • covering of critical habitat with new anthropogenic structures

Examples of activities on critical habitat that will result in destruction of critical habitat include, but are not limited to:

  • Removal, cultivation and/or conversion of native prairie to annual cropland or non-native grassland.

Sprague’s Pipits require native grassland habitat. The species is not found breeding in any type of annual cropland and is less abundant in non-native compared to native grasslands (Robbins and Dale 1999, Davis et al. 1999, Davis and Duncan 1999, Madden et al. 2000). Pipit abundance has been shown to decrease on native pastures with increasing amounts of non-native grassland in the landscape (Fisher 2010, Davis et al. unpubl. data). Furthermore, reproductive success and juvenile survival have been found to be lower in non-native than native grassland habitat (Fisher and Davis 2011a, Davis unpubl. data).

  • Construction of roads.

Roads (paved, gravel or dirt surfaces of > 2 m width with ditches or raised road bed) destroy and fragment native grassland habitat, facilitate invasion of native grassland by exotic plant species, concentrate activities of certain predators and increase the chance of pipits colliding with vehicles. As a possible consequence of these effects, bundance of pipits has been found to be lower along roads than along trails (Sutter et al. 2000).

  • Intentional flooding of upland habitat.

Water impoundment and creation of wetlands in upland native prairie cause the terrestrial vegetation to be unavailable to pipits for nesting and foraging. Pipit abundance has been found to increase with increasing distance from wetlands (Koper et al. 2009) suggesting the presence of wetlands negatively affects habitat suitability beyond the wetland itself.

  • Prolonged/chronic over-grazing.

Livestock grazing may reduce habitat quality if intensity, frequency, and duration of grazing are excessively high. Prolonged over-grazing may degrade habitat to a point where the vegetation structure and community is no longer compatible with the habitat requirements of the species. Rangeland classified as “Poor” range condition (Abouguendia 1990) is not suitable for pipits (Davis et al. unpubl. data) and is likely difficult to recover without substantial resources and time (Abouguendia 1990).

  • Construction of new infrastructure (e.g., buildings, oil and gas wells, pipelines, waste and water storage facilities)

Anthropogenic structures placed on native grassland exclude pipits from using the habitat directly associated with the structure. Occurrence of pipits is negatively affected by the density of wells in the landscape (Dale et. al. 2009) and individual wells are avoided by pipits, with exclusion zones extending up to 60 m from natural gas wells (Bogard and Davis unpubl. data).

Activities required to manage, inspect, or maintain existing facilities and infrastructure, which are not critical habitat but whose footprints may be within or adjacent to the identified critical habitat, are not examples of activities likely to result in the destruction of critical habitat. In addition, construction or repair of anthropogenic structures required to improve or maintain the condition of critical habitat (e.g., pasture fences, dug-outs and other livestock watering systems, or salt blocks) are not considered destruction of critical habitat.

Some human activities in or adjacent to critical habitat will require assessment for possible cumulative effects on critical habitat and the potential for destruction. Environment Canada will work with provincial regulatory authorities, academia, and land users to develop a better understanding of cumulative effects of both energy development and agricultural activities and associated infrastructure, as well as thresholds of destruction (Table 5), and mitigation guidelines (such as restrictions on activities in certain areas and over certain time periods).

2.7.5 Schedule of Studies to Identify Critical Habitat

Although much progress has been made since the original Sprague’s Pipit recovery strategy, there are a number of studies/steps that are required before additional critical habitat can be identified across the species’ Canadian breeding range (Table 5).

Table 5. Schedule of Studies
Description of Activity and QuestionAnticipated Outcome/RationaleTimeline
Validate national pipit RSF model to determine usefulness in guiding critical habitat identification.National model provides direction for the development of predictive models at regional scales.June 2011-October 2011
Develop and refine regional predictive models of occurrence or abundance to help identify potential critical habitat areas.Geographic information system (GIS) maps delineating regions of relatively high probability of occurrence or abundance are used to identify candidate landscapes containing critical habitat.  October 2011- March 2013
Conduct field surveys to verify predictive models and collect pipit location and abundance data.Additional critical habitat is identified in various regions of the prairies, including southwestern Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta.April 2011- March 2014
Determine thresholds of tolerance for exotic species, woody vegetation, wetlands, and disturbances associated with agriculture and energy development.Additional critical habitat is identified and cumulative effects and factors causing destruction are better understood.May 2011 -March 2014
Refine ability to derive population estimates.Understand how much critical habitat is required to meet population and distribution objectives.March 2013

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2.8 Existing and Recommended Approaches to Habitat Protection

Sprague’s Pipit habitat may be conserved in a number of ways. Voluntary stewardship agreements have been widely used by conservation groups as a means of establishing and building relationships with producers. Landowners typically make a pledge that they will continue to conserve the native resource to the benefit of the wildlife species that depend upon it. In addition, stewards have access to extension materials and technical resource workshops and demonstration sites where they can learn from professionals and their peers. These activities are an important step towards protection of habitat. Management agreements are typically short-term formal agreements (10–15 years) that are legally binding and represent an agreement between the producer and conservation organization. Incentives are provided (e.g., watering system development, fencing materials, forage seed, etc.) to encourage landowners to alter current management regimes for species at risk and other wildlife.

Sprague’s Pipit habitat may also be protected in the longer term through conservation easements (voluntary and paid) or purchase of land. Conservation easements allow landowners to maintain control of their land under certain restrictions agreed to by both the landowner and the agency offering the easement. For this reason, the agricultural community may find this form of protection more appealing than conservation agencies purchasing and controlling agricultural land. However, there may be circumstances where land acquisition is deemed to be the best option for both the producer and the conservation agency. While these approaches typically result in the protection of a relatively small proportion of available pipit habitat, the greatest potential for conserving large expanses of grassland habitat is likely via land policy initiatives that affect Crown and private land. Much of the prairie landscape is owned and managed by individual landowners and the provinces. Hence, any changes to agricultural or Crown land policies that conserve grassland habitat, in terms of quality and quantity, and allow producers to make a living have great potential to positively impact a large proportion of pipit habitat.

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2.9 Effects on Other Species

Recovery efforts that are designed to conserve and restore native prairie or create grassland habitats will benefit a great variety of grassland species. Specifically, protection and proper management of native prairie will also benefit other federally listed grassland species, such as Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), swift fox (Vulpes velox), and Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Few species are expected to be detrimentally affected. However, prairie conservation initiatives that control and eliminate woody vegetation may have local negative consequences for Loggerhead Shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) in some areas. Furthermore, grassland species requiring tall and dense or short and sparse vegetation may be negatively affected to some degree by habitat management programs directed at pipits.

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2.10 Recommended Approach for Recovery Implementation

Refer to Table 3 for a list of approaches recommended to address threats and meet recovery objectives.

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2.11 Statement on Action Plans[9]

The completion of action plans has been delayed pending identification of critical habitat and finalization of this amendment to the Final Recovery Strategy for the Sprague's Pipit. There is a potential for a multispecies action plan that could benefit multiple species at risk inhabiting southwestern Saskatchewan, which would incorporate an important part of the Sprague’s Pipit’s range in Canada. Action plan(s) to cover other parts of the range of the Sprague’s Pipit also need to be developed. Action plans for Sprague's Pipit will be completed by 2014.

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3. References[10]

Abouguendia, Z. M. 1990. A practical guide to planning for management and improvement of Saskatchewan rangeland: Range plan development. Saskatchewan Research Council Report E-2520-1-E-90.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 2001. PFRA’s Generalized Landcover [internet download] version 1. Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Regina, Saskatchewan. (Accessed: 26 March 2007).

Brewster, K. 2009. Role of Landscape Composition and Geographical Location on Breeding Philopatry in Grassland Passerines: A Stable Isotope Approach. MS thesis. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon.

COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada). 2000. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

CPPF (Canadian Prairie Partners in Flight). 2004. Landbird Conservation Plan for Prairie Pothole Bird Conservation Region 11 in Canada. Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton, Alberta.

CWS (Canadian Wildlife Service). 2006. Monitoring and Reporting: Canadian Bird Trends -- Sprague’s Pipit. Available at: (accessed November 24, 2006).

Dale, B.C. 1983. Habitat relationships of seven species of passerine birds at Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan. M.S. thesis, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan.

Dale, B.C. 1993. Productivity of endemic grassland passerines in haylands. Pp. 27–32 in Proceedings of the third prairie conservation and endangered species workshop (G.L. Holroyd, H.L. Dickson, M. Regnier, and H.C. Smith, eds.). Natural History Occasional Paper No. 19, Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.

Dale, B.C., P.A. Martin, and P.S. Taylor. 1997. Effects of hay management on grassland songbirds in Saskatchewan. Wildlife Society Bulletin 25: 616–626.

Dale, B.C., M. Norton, C. Downes, and B. Collins. 2003. Monitoring as a means to focus research and conservation -- the Grassland Bird Monitoring example. General Technical Report PSW-GTR-191, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

Dale, B.C., P.S. Taylor, and J.P. Goossen. 1999. Avian Component Report, Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area Wildlife Inventory. Unpubl. Canadian Wildlife Service report, Edmonton, AB.

Dale, B.C., T.S. Wiens, and L.E. Hamilton. 2009. Abundance of three grassland songbirds in an area of natural gas infill drilling in Alberta, Canada. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropic 194-204

Davis, S.K. 2003. Nesting ecology of mixed-grass prairie songbirds in southern Saskatchewan. Wilson Bulletin 115: 119–130.

Davis, S.K. 2004. Area sensitivity in grassland passerines: Effects of patch size, patch shape, and vegetation structure on bird abundance and occurrence in southern Saskatchewan. Auk 121: 1130–1145.

Davis, S.K. 2005. Nest-site selection patterns and the influence of vegetation on nest survival of mixed-grass prairie passerines. Condor 107: 605–616.

Davis, S.K. and D.C. Duncan. 1999. Grassland songbird occurrence in native and crested wheatgrass pastures of southern Saskatchewan. Studies in Avian Biology 19: 211–218.

Davis, S.K. and S.G. Sealy. 2000. Cowbird parasitism and nest predation in fragmented grasslands of southwestern Manitoba. Pp. 220-228 in Ecology and management of cowbirds and their hosts (J.N.M. Smith, T.L. Cook, S.I. Rothstein, S.K. Robinson, and S.G. Sealy, eds.). University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.

Davis, S.K., D.C. Duncan, and M. Skeel. 1999. Distribution and habitat associations of three endemic grassland songbirds in southern Saskatchewan. Wilson Bulletin 111: 389–396.

Davis, S. K. and R. J. Fisher. 2009. Post-fledging movements of Sprague’s Pipit. Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 121:198–202.

Davis, S.K., R.M. Brigham, T.L. Schaffer, and P.C. James. 2006. Mixed-grass prairie passerines exhibit weak and variable responses to patch size. Auk 123: 807–821.

Dieni, S.J. and S.L. Jones. 2003. Grassland songbird nest site selection patterns in northcentral Montana. Wilson Bulletin 115: 388–396.

Dohms, K. 2009. Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) nestling provisioning and growth rates in native and planted grasslands. MS thesis. University of Regina, Regina SK.

Dohms, K. M. and S. K. Davis. 2009. Polygyny and male parental care by Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii). Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121:826–830.

Driscoll, M.A. 2004. Reproductive success of Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) and other grassland birds nesting in rotationally- and continuously-grazed cattle pastures in southeast Minnesota. M.Sc. thesis, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Environment Canada. 2008.  Recovery Strategy for the Sprague's pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Canada.   Species At Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. v + 29 pp:

Fahrig, L. 2003. Effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 34: 487–515. 

Fisher, R. J. 2010. Landscape and local factors affecting the use of native and planted grasslands by Sprague’s Pipit. PhD Dissertation,  University of Regina, Regina SK.

Fisher, R. J. and S. K. Davis. 2011a. Post-fledging dispersal, habitat use, and survival of Sprague's pipits: are planted grasslands a good substitute for native? Biological Conservation 144:263-271.

Fisher, R. J. and S. K. Davis. 2011b. Habitat use by Sprague’s Pipits (Anthus spragueii) in native pastures and planted, non-native hay fields. Auk 128:273-282.

Franken, R., T. Wellicome, B. Dale, M. Schmoll, R. Quinlan, and D. Scobie. 2003. Identifying species–habitat linkages for priority Landbirds, Shorebirds and Species at Risk: Final report. Unpublished report, Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton, Alberta.

Gates, E.J. and L.W. Gysel. 1978. Avian nest dispersion and fledging success in field–forest ecotones. Ecology 59(5): 871–883.

George, T.L., A.C. Fowler, R.L. Knight, and L.C. McEwen. 1992. Impacts of a severe drought on grassland birds in North Dakota. Ecological Applications 2: 275–284.

Habib, L., E. M. Bayne, and S. Boutin. 2007. Chronic industrial noise affects pairing success and age structure of ovenbirds Seiurus aurocapilla. Journal of Applied Ecology 44:176-184.

Horn, D.J., M.L. Phillips, R.R. Koford, W.R. Clark, M.A. Sovada, and R.J. Greenwood. 2005. Landscape composition, patch size, and distance to edges: Interactions affecting duck reproductive success. Ecological Applications 15: 1367–1376.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2001. Climate change: The scientific basis. Working Group 1, IPCC Third Assessment Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 94 pp.

Johnson, R.G. and S.A. Temple. 1986. Assessing habitat quality for birds nesting in fragmented tallgrass prairies. Pp. 245–249 in Wildlife 2000: Modeling habitat relationships of terrestrial vertebrates (J. Verner, M.L. Morrison, and C.J. Ralph, eds.). University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin.

Johnson, R.G. and S.A. Temple. 1990. Nest predation and brood parasitism of tallgrass prairie birds. Journal of Wildlife Management 54: 106–111.

Jones, S.L. and S.J. Dieni. In press. The relationship between predation and nest concealment in mixed-grass prairie passerines: An analysis using program Mark. Studies in Avian Biology.

Kie, J.G. and E.R. Loft. 1990. Using livestock to manage wildlife habitat: Some examples from California annual grassland and wet meadow communities. Pp. 7–24 in Can livestock be used as a tool to enhance wildlife habitat? (K.E. Severson, ed.). General Technical Report RM-194, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Knopf, F.L.1994. Avian assemblages on altered grasslands. Studies in Avian Biology 15: 247–257.

Koper, N. and K.A. Schmiegelow. 2006a. A multi-scaled analysis of avian response to habitat amount and fragmentation in the Canadian dry mixed-grass prairie. Landscape Ecology 21: 1045–1059.

Koper, N. and K.A. Schmiegelow. 2006b. Effects of habitat management for ducks on target and nontarget species. Journal of Wildlife Management 70: 823–834.

Koper, N., D. J. Walker,  and J. Champagne. 2009. Nonlinear effects of distance to habitat edge on Sprague’s Pipits in southern Alberta, Canada.  Landscape Ecology 24:1287-1297.

Linnen, C. G. 2008. Effects of oil and gas development on grassland birds. Prepared for: Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada, Calgary, Alberta.

Lusk, J. 2009. The effects of grazing on songbird nesting success in Grasslands National Park of Canada. MS thesis. University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB.

Madden, E.M. 1996. Passerine communities and bird–habitat relationships on prescribe-burned mixed-grass prairie in North Dakota. M.S. thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana. 153 pp.

Madden, E. M., R. K. Murphy, A. J. Hansen, and L. Murray. 2000. Models for guiding management of prairie bird habitat in northwestern North Dakota. American Midland Naturalist 144:377-392.

Maher, W.J. 1973. Matador project. Birds: I. Population dynamics. Technical Report No. 34, Canadian Committee for the International Biological Programme, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 50 pp.

Martin, P.A., T.W. Arnold, and D.J. Forsyth. 2005. Use of agricultural fields by birds during canola planting in Saskatchewan: Potential for exposure to pesticides. Technical Report No. 358, Canadian Wildlife Service. 19 pp.

McConnell, S.D., R. Van den Driessche, T.D. Hooper, G.L. Roberts, and A. Roberts. 1993. First occurrence and breeding of Sprague’s Pipit, Anthus spragueii, for British Columbia. Canadian Field-Naturalist 107: 222–223.

McKercher, R. B., and B. Wolfe. 1986. Understanding Western Canada's Dominion Land Survey System. Division of Extension and Community Relations report, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon. 26 pp.

McMaster, D.G. and S.K. Davis. 2001. An evaluation of Canada’s Permanent Cover Program: Habitat for grassland birds? Journal of Field Ornithology 72: 195–210.

McMaster, D.G., J.H. Devries, and S.K. Davis. 2005. Grassland birds nesting in haylands of southern Saskatchewan: Landscape influences and conservation priorities. Journal of Wildlife Management 69: 211–221.

Owens, R.A. and M.T. Myres. 1973. Effects of agriculture upon populations of native passerine birds of an Alberta fescue grassland. Canadian Journal of Zoology 51: 697–713.

Paine, L., D.J. Undersander, D.W. Sample, G.A. Bartelt, and T.A. Schatteman. 1996. Cattle trampling of simulated ground nests in rotationally grazed pastures. Journal of Range Management 49: 294–300.

Phillips, M.L., W.R. Clark, S.M. Nusser, M.A. Sovada, and R.J. Greenwood. 2004. Analysis of predator movement in prairie landscapes with contrasting grassland composition. Journal of Mammalogy 85: 187–195.

Prescott, D.R.C. 1997. Status of the Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) in Alberta. Wildlife Status Report No. 10, Wildlife Management Division, Alberta Environmental Protection, Edmonton, Alberta. 14 pp.

Prescott, D.R.C. and G.M. Wagner. 1996. Avian responses to implementation of a complementary/rotational grazing system by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan in southern Alberta: The Medicine Wheel project. NAWMP-018, Alberta NAWMP Centre, Edmonton, Alberta. 24 pp.

Pylypec, B. 1991. Impacts of fire on bird populations in a fescue prairie. Canadian Field-Naturalist 105: 346–349.

Robbins, M.B. 1998. Display behavior of male Sprague's pipits. Wilson Bulletin 110: 435-438.

Robbins, M.B. and B.C. Dale. 1999. Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii). In The Birds of North America, No. 439 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Rodriguez, J.P. 2002. Range contraction in declining North American bird populations. Ecological Applications 12: 238–248.

Sauer, J.R., J.E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966–2005. Version 6.2.2006. United States Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,Laurel, Maryland.

Skinner, S.P. 2004. Linking decision support systems for ducks with relative abundance of other grassland bird species. M.S. thesis, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 115 pp.

Statistics Canada. 1997. Historical overview of Canadian agriculture. Report No. 93-358-XPB, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

Strauss, L. 2007. Sprague’s Pipit and Baird’s Sparrow survey at Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area and Migratory Bird Sanctuary.  Unpublished report to Canadian Wildlife Service.

Sutter, G.C. 1996. Habitat selection and prairie drought in relation to grassland bird community structure and the nesting ecology of Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii). Ph.D. dissertation, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan. 144 pp.

Sutter, G.C. 1997. Songbird abundance, productivity, and the predation risk in managed grasslands: Initial findings and recommendations. Report to the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), Parks Canada, and the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada). 33 pp.

Sutter, G.C. and R.M. Brigham. 1998. Avifaunal and habitat changes resulting from conversion of native prairie to crested wheat grass: Patterns at songbird community and species levels. Canadian Journal of Zoology 76: 869–875.

Sutter, G.C., S.K. Davis, and D.C. Duncan. 2000. Grassland songbird abundance along roads and trails in southern Saskatchewan. Journal of Field Ornithology 71: 110–116.

Wiens, T. S., B. C. Dale, M. S. Boyce, and G. P. Kershaw. 2008. Three way k-fold cross-validation of resource selection functions. Ecological Modelling 212:244-255.

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4. Recovery Team Members

Delaney Boyd, Department of National Defence – Suffield
Bill Bristol, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Brenda Dale, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
Dr. Stephen Davis, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada
Ken De Smet, Manitoba Conservation
Sue McAdam, Saskatchewan Environment
Dr. David Prescott, Alberta Fish and Wildlife
Sherry Lynn Punak-Murphy, Department of National Defence – Shilo
Robert Sissons, Parks Canada – Grasslands National Park
Peggy Strankman, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association

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Appendix 1

Establishing population objectives for Sprague’s Pipit.

The population objective for Sprague’s Pipit was set using data from the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), 1970 – 2005 (see section 2.2 for rationale).  Survey routes located within the Canadian distribution were selected and divided into Prairie and Parkland (Table 6) because BBS trends differed substantially in the two regions.  Model-based estimates of abundance (BBS annual index) were calculated for each year using the program BBSINDEX (B. Collins unpubl. data).  Annual abundance estimates were calculated for each province (Manitoba [MB], Saskatchewan [SK], and Alberta [AB]), each region (Prairie and Parkland) and for Prairie Canada using all routes in Table 6.  A ten-year mean was calculated for 1996-2005 to determine the relative size of the current Canadian population.  Similarly a 10-year average was calculated for the 1980’s to serve as a population target (see section 2.2 for rationale).

Table 6. Routes included in the calculation of Breeding Bird Survey annual abundance (mean number of birds per route) estimates for Sprague’s Pipit population objectives.
ProvinceRoute No.Region

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Appendix 2. Location of Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat in the South and North block of CFB Suffield National Wildlife Area in South-Eastern Alberta. 

Appendix 2. is a representation of a map showing the location of Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat in the south and north block of the Canadian Forces Base Suffield National Wildlife Area (Alberta). At the bottom right corner of the map, the legend identifies the following elements: the boundary of CFB Suffield, the boundary of the Suffield National Wildlife Area, what is identified as critical habitat within Suffield NWA, and the scale of the map.

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Appendix 3. Location of Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat in Last Mountain Lake national wildlife area and adjacent Nokomis community pasture in South-Central Saskatchewan.  Only those portions of the outlined quarter-sections containing suitable biophysical attributes are considered critical habitat.

Appendix 3. is a representation of a map showing the location of Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat in Saskatchewan, most specifically in Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area and the adjacent Nokomis community pasture. At the bottom right corner of the map, the legend includes the following elements: highways and gravel roads, the quarter-sections containing critical habitat, the boundary of Nokomis community pasture as well as the boundary of Last Mountain Lake NWA, and the scale of the map.

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Appendix 4. Location of quarter-sections containing critical habitat for Sprague’s Pipit in the east block of Grasslands National Park (GNP), Saskatchewan.  Only those portions of the outlined quarter-sections containing suitable biophysical attributes are considered critical habitat.

Appendix 4. is a representation of a map showing the location of Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat in the east block of Grassland National Park. located in Saskatchewan. At the bottom right corner of the map, the legend includes the following elements: quarter-sections containing critical habitat, the boundary of Grassland National Park, including a small portion of provincial crown leased land, and the scale of the map.

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Appendix 5. Legal land descriptions of quarter sections containing critical habitat[11]

Last Mountain Lake NWA, Saskatchewan
Quarter sectionSectionTownshipRangeMeridian
NW, SW2328232
NE, SE, SW2728232


AAFC Nokomis Community Pasture, Saskatchewan
Quarter sectionSectionTownshipRangeMeridian
NW, SW1729232
NE, NW1929232


Grassland National Park, Saskatchewan
Quarter sectionSectionTownshipRangeMeridian
NE, NW6163
NE, NW, SE, SW7163
NW, SW8163
NE, NW, SE, SW17163
NE, NW, SE, SW18163
SE, SW20163
NE, NW21163
NE, NW22163
NE, NW, SE, SW27163
NE, NW, SE, SW28163
NE, NW, SE, SW33163
NE, NW, SE, SW34163
NE, SE, SW12173


CFB Suffield NWA, Alberta
Quarter sectionSectionTownshipRangeMeridian
NE, NW, SE, SW31554
NE, NW, SE, SW41554
NE, NW, SE, SW51554
NE, NW, SE, SW61554
NE, NW, SE, SW71554
NW, SE, SW81554
NE, NW, SW91554
SE, SW101554
NW, SE, SW161554
NE, NW, SE, SW171554
NE, NW, SE, SW181554
NE, NW, SE, SW191554
NE, NW, SE, SW201554
NW, SW211554
NE, NW, SE, SW271554
NE, NW, SE, SW281554
NE, NW, SE, SW291554
NE, NW, SE, SW301554
NE, NW, SE, SW311554
NE, NW, SE, SW321554
NE, NW, SE, SW331554
NE, NW, SE, SW11564
NE, SE121564
NE, NW, SE, SW131564
NE, NW201564
NE, NW211564
NE, NW231564
NE, NW, SE, SW241564
NE, NW, SE, SW251564
NE, NW, SE, SW261564
NE, NW271564
NE, NW, SE, SW281564
NE, NW, SE, SW291564
NE, NW, SE, SW321564
NE, NW, SE, SW331564
NE, NW, SE, SW341564
NE, NW, SE, SW351564
NE, NW, SE, SW361564
NE, NW, SE, SW41654
NE, NW, SE, SW51654
NE, NW, SE, SW61654
NE, NW, SE, SW71654
NE, NW, SE, SW81654
NE, NW, SE, SW91654
NW, SW101654
NW, SW151654
NE, NW, SE, SW161654
NE, NW, SE, SW171654
NE, NW, SE, SW181654
NE, NW, SE, SW191654
NE, NW, SE, SW201654
NE, NW, SE, SW211654
NE, NW, SE, SW221654
NE, NW, SE, SW271654
NE, NW, SE, SW281654
NE, NW, SE, SW291654
NE, NW, SE, SW301654
NE, NW, SE, SW311654
NE, NW, SE, SW321654
NE, NW, SE, SW331654
NE, NW, SE, SW341654
NE, NW, SE, SW11664
NE, NW, SE, SW21664
NE, NW, SE, SW31664
NE, NW, SE, SW41664
NE, NW, SE, SW51664
NE, NW, SE, SW81664
NE, NW, SE, SW91664
NE, NW, SE, SW101664
NE, NW, SE, SW111664
NE, NW, SE, SW121664
NE, SE, SW131664
NE, NW, SE, SW141664
NE, NW, SE, SW151664
NE, NW, SE, SW161664
SE, SW171664
NE, SE241664
NE, NW71734
SE, SW181734
NE, NW, SE, SW311734
NW, SW321734
NE, NW, SE, SW131744
NE, NW, SE141744
NE, SE151744
NE, NW191744
NE, SE221744
NE, NW, SE, SW231744
NE, NW, SE, SW241744
NE, NW, SE, SW251744
NE, NW, SE, SW261744
NE, NW, SE, SW271744
NE, NW, SE, SW281744
NE, NW, SE, SW291744
NE, NW, SE, SW301744
NW, SE, SW311744
NE, NW, SE, SW321744
NE, NW, SE, SW331744
NE, NW, SE, SW341744
NE, NW, SE, SW351744
NE, NW, SE, SW361744
NE, NW, SE, SW31754
NE, NW, SE, SW41754
NE, NW, SE, SW51754
NE, NW, SE, SW61754
NW, SE, SW71754
NE, NW, SE, SW81754
NE, NW, SE, SW91754
NE, NW, SE, SW101754
NE, NW, SE, SW111754
NW, SW141754
NE, NW, SE, SW151754
NE, NW, SE, SW161754
NE, NW, SE, SW171754
SE, SW201754
NE, NW, SE, SW251754
NE, NW, SE, SW361754
NW, SW51834
NE, NW, SE, SW61834
NE, NW71834
NE, NW181834
NW, SW191834
NW, SW301834
NW, SW311834
NE, NW, SE, SW11844
NE, NW, SE, SW21844
NE, NW, SE, SW31844
NE, NW, SE, SW41844
NE, NW, SE, SW51844
NE, NW, SE, SW81844
NE, NW, SE, SW91844
NE, NW, SE, SW101844
NE, NW, SE, SW111844
NE, NW, SE, SW121844
NE, NW, SE, SW131844
NE, NW, SE, SW141844
NE, NW, SE, SW151844
NE, NW, SE, SW161844
NE, NW, SE, SW171844
NE, SE201844
NE, NW, SE, SW211844
NE, NW, SE, SW221844
NE, NW, SE, SW231844
NE, NW, SE, SW241844
NE, NW, SE, SW251844
NE, NW, SE, SW261844
NE, NW, SE, SW271844
NE, NW, SE, SW281844
NE, NW, SE, SW331844
NE, SE341844
NE, NW, SE, SW351844
NE, NW, SE, SW361844
NE, NW, SW61934
NE, NW, SE, SW71934
NE, NW, SE, SW81934
NE, NW91934
NE, NW101934
NE, NW, SE, SW111934
NE, NW, SW131934
NE, NW, SE, SW141934
NE, NW, SE, SW151934
NE, NW, SE, SW161934
SE, SW171934
NE, NW, SE, SW181934
NE, NW, SE, SW191934
NE, NW, SE, SW201934
NE, NW, SE, SW211934
NE, NW, SE, SW221934
NE, NW, SE, SW231934
NE, NW, SE, SW241934
NE, NW, SE, SW251934
NE, NW, SE, SW261934
NE, NW, SE, SW271934
NE, NW, SE, SW281934
NE, SE, SW291934
NE, NW, SE, SW301934
NE, NW, SE, SW311934
NE, NW, SE, SW321934
NE, NW, SE, SW331934
NE, NW, SE, SW341934
NE, NW, SE, SW351934
NE, NW, SE, SW361934
NE, NW, SE, SW11944
NE, NW, SE, SW21944
NE, NW, SE, SW31944
NE, SE101944
NE, NW, SE, SW111944
NE, NW, SE, SW121944
NE, NW, SE, SW131944
NE, NW, SE, SW141944
NE, SE231944
NE, NW, SE, SW241944
NE, NW, SE, SW251944
NE, SE361944
NE, NW, SE, SW12034
NE, NW, SE, SW22034
NE, NW, SE, SW32034
NE, NW, SE, SW42034
NE, NW, SE, SW52034
NE, SE, SW62034
NE, NW, SE, SW82034
NE, NW, SE, SW92034
NE, NW, SE, SW102034
NE, NW, SE, SW112034
NE, NW, SE122034
NE, NW, SE, SW132034
NE, NW, SE, SW142034
NE, NW, SE, SW152034
NE, NW, SE, SW162034
NE, SE, SW172034


1 Amended September 2011
2 Amended September 2011
3 Amended September 2011
4 Amended September 2011
5 Amended September 2011
6 Amended September 2011
7 Amended September 2011
8 The Dominion Land Survey system (McKercher and Wolfe 1986) is the grid system used in the Prairie Provinces to describe land locations. One unit of this system, the quarter-section (65 ha), is particularly useful for mapping critical habitat as it is used for ownership and management purposes. The quarter section level is used in this document to aid in describing the location of Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat.
9 Amended September 2011
10 Amended September 2011
11 Within these quarter-sections, Sprague’s Pipit critical habitat consists only of those areas of land with biophysical attributes as described in the Section 2.7.3.