Prairie Birds

Fragile Splendor in the Great Plains

Paul A. Johnsgard

For anyone who has ever thrilled to a cloud of blackbirds or a solitary falcon against the prairie sky, Paul Johnsgard has written a book that will both inspire and inform.

One of America's preeminent ornithologists, Johnsgard blends science, nature, and personal observations to tell the life histories of thirty-three grassland birds. Writing with precision and passion, he draws from his own observations to convey the magic of prairie birds, taking readers hawk-watching at Scotts Bluff or beside a prairie river on a spring evening with song sparrows in the willow thickets and cranes at the water's edge.

“This book is a fascinating mixture of science, history, personal observation, opinion, and natural history accounts of prairie birds. . . . Johnsgard’s accounts include wonderful insights and observations from a person raised and living in the heart of the prairie. I recommend this book to anyone interested in grassland birds as both a useful resource and an enjoyable read.

—The Condor

“Johnsgard, one of the premier ornithologists of the North American Great Plains, reminds us that landscape conservation is valued from historical perspective and measured in quality, not quantity, of species. He shares the simple beauty of prairie as it evolved then and not as we have confused it today.”

—Fritz Knopf, coeditor of Prairie Conservation

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In graceful prose, Johnsgard provides an overview of the history, current status, and uncertain future of prairie birds, from falcons and shorebirds to larks and sparrows. Some are intercontinental migrants that winter in South America, others sedentary species or short-distance travelers who may frequent the grasslands of Mexico. Johnsgard describes each species, its features, habits, habitats, migratory patterns, and breeding season ecology with the knowledge and flair that has made his books indispensable for birders of every level of experience.

More than a book on birds, Prairie Birds is a compelling portrait of the native grasslands of the Great Plains, which constitute nearly a fifth of continent and are the most imperiled of North America's terrestrial ecosystems. He tells how birds evolved along with this "ancient sea of grass" over eons of time, and also warns of the effects of human interference on the future of grasslands and birds alike as grazing, burning, and agriculture threaten the native grasses on which many birds depend for survival.

The book features forty-seven drawings by the author, including a number of bird songs sonograms. Appendixes provide an annotated list of more than one hundred prairie preserves, bird checklists for primary refuges and sanctuaries, and a list of all birds and plants mentioned in the text. A list of more than 600 citations makes this a definitive reference as well as a pleasurable read.

Prairie Birds is an essential book for readers everywhere who loves birds and are concerned about their future. It invites us to stop and listen for the song of the pipit or longspur as it shows us America's grasslands in a new light.

About the Author

An internationally acclaimed authority on birds, Paul A. Johnsgard is Foundation Professor of Biology at the University of Nebraska and the author of forty books. They include such encyclopedic works as Hummingbirds of North America and Pheasants of the World and books of regional interest such as The Birds of the Great Plains and This Fragile Land: A Natural History of the Nebraska Sandhills.