Grassland Conservation at Green Lakes State Park

The NYS Bird Conservation Area Program (BCA) deems certain areas as especially worth protecting due to their importance as a habitat for one or more species. In general, a site is nominated because of its importance to large numbers of waterfowl, pelagic seabirds, shorebirds, wading birds, migratory birds, or because of high species diversity, importance to species at risk, or its importance as a bird research site. The Green Lakes BCA is located within Green Lakes State Park. Green Lakes is about 5 miles East of Syracuse and is bordered on the north by portions of the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. The park offers an eighteen hole golf course, camping, biking, hiking, swimming, and cross-country skiing.

Bobolink, photo by NYS Parks
Bobolink, photo by NYS Parks

The Green lakes BCA is an important habitat for migratory bird species and it is a diverse species concentration site, meaning that many different kinds of birds use this habitat to nest, feed, and shelter. In particular, this BCA is unique because it contains significant tracts of both mature forest and grassland habitat, providing habitat for an unusually diverse suite of bird species. Grassland habitat, and the birds that depend on that habitat, have been declining throughout the northeastern U.S. The grasslands within Green lakes BCA represent the largest concentration of grassland habitat in the New York State Park system. This makes it a perfect shelter for grassland-breeding species including Northern Harrier (threatened), Bobolink, and Grasshopper Sparrow (special concern). In addition, the BCA contains a relatively large tract of interior forest, including old-growth forest, which provides important breeding habitat for mature forest birds, such as Ovenbird, eastern wood-pewee and wood thrush. Finally, the meromictic lakes, from which the BCA takes its name, provide stopover and foraging sites for many birds dependent upon open water, including Bald Eagle, Osprey, and Wood Duck.

The Green Lakes BCA is also in need of conservation. In the western portion of the Green Lakes State Park, the BCA’s important grassland habitat is currently undergoing succession, with shrubs and trees gradually becoming established within these fields. The majority of these woody plants are non-native invasive species. Continued establishment of woody plants will eliminate habitat for grassland-dependent bird species, many of which are state-listed. For this reason, NYS Parks has developed a grassland management plan to protect and conserve this important bird habitat.

The management plan calls for:

  • Removal of woody vegetation from critical fields, and maintaining these fields as grassland bird habitat through regular mowing (every two to three years).
  • Selective removal of hedgerows, which fragment the grasslands and provide travel corridors for nest predators such as raccoons
  • Removal of invasive species, such as Pale Swallow-wort. These non-native species have the potential to significantly transform the current habitat within the BCA, and reduce habitat quality for a wide range of birds.
  • Reducing the deer population. The deer population within the BCA is currently impacting the survival and regeneration of native vegetation, particularly within forested habitats.

For more information:

New York State Breeding Bird Atlas 2000, Maps and Species Lists 

OPRHP 2010, Green Lakes State Park Master Plan 

NYS Parks Bird Conservation Areas

The featured photo is the Green Lakes Bird Conservation Area at Green Lakes State Park. Photo by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.

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