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In August, Ringgold County’s Kellerton Grasslands Important Bird Area (IBA) was elevated to status of a Globally Important Bird Area (GIBA) by BirdLife International, based in Great Britain, and the National Audubon Society.
“The Kellerton Grasslands are well-known in Iowa for the resident population of greater prairie chickens, but the new GIBA designation was made based upon the region’s critical importance to nesting Henslow’s sparrows, listed as an Iowa threatened species,” said Doug Harr, president of Iowa Audubon.
While Audubon’s IBA program recognizes sites critical for nesting by several declining bird species or important for large migration stopovers, the BCA program is aimed at designating large landscapes of habitat critical to a wider variety of Iowa’s birds and other wildlife.
Kellerton GIBA also has dual designation as an Iowa Department of Natural Resources Bird Conservation Area (BCA). Kellerton was DNR’s original Iowa BCA, and the first such designation of a grassland in the nation.
Although the prairie chicken was one of the DNR’s first targets for better habitat protection on a BCA landscape, it was quickly realized that the area provides habitat for pretty much every other Iowa grassland nesting bird species, including nesting species of greatest conservation need like Henslow’s sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, loggerhead shrike, Bell’s vireo, northern harrier and upland sandpiper.
Nesting population studies of some species were begun through Iowa State University, with original Henslow’s sparrow numbers compiled by Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit leader Rolf Koford. Following Koford’s retirement, DNR wildlife diversity biologist Bruce Ehresman took over collecting more nesting data, with up to 309 Henslow’s sparrow territories documented in 2015 and 331 territories confirmed in 2016. In early 2017, Ehresman submitted sufficient records to the National Audubon Society so it could be considered for and receive globally important status.
GIBA designation is not easy to acquire, but large numbers of Henslow’s sparrows nesting in the Kellerton Grasslands resulted in this BCA/IBA gaining only the second such international recognition in Iowa. The first was Effigy Mounds/Yellow River Forest BCA/GIBA, designated in 2013 for its nesting population of cerulean warblers, a species seeing a 70 percent national decline since 1966. Upon receiving globally important status, the Iowa DNR and Iowa Audubon will continue to collaborate; targeting even more conservation efforts to assure that these icon species can stabilize and continue to recover, while also providing far better habitat for all wildlife.
Kellerton Grasslands BCA/GIBA offers some of the best grassland bird viewing opportunities in all of Iowa.