Over the past two decades, a significant effort has been made to restore native habitats, such as tallgrass prairie, in the Arb. Though restoring habitat is a long-term project requiring many decades of hard work, there are already good indications that some of the Arb’s restorations are beginning to take shape.
One important measure of restoration progress is the presence of indicator species that require specific conditions only associated with high-quality habitat – and this summer, two important indicator species were observed in the Arb.
For several weeks in late July and early August, a small group of Henslow’s Sparrows took up residence in the Arb. This species is a rare and secretive resident of prairies whose tendency to hide in the grass when spooked rather than fly away led naturalist and painter John James Audubon to describe the sparrow as a “mouse with wings.” Listed as an endangered species in Minnesota, Henslow’s Sparrows are found almost exclusively in large, contiguous grasslands with tall, dead grass and a thick layer of thatch covering the ground.
Additionally, a family of five Red Headed Woodpeckers was spotted near Kettle Hole marsh last week taking advantage of this year’s abundance of acorns. In contrast to the inconspicuous Henslow’s Sparrow, Red Headed Woodpeckers feature striking crimson heads as well as contrasting black and white bodies.
These woodpeckers are savannah specialists preferring habitat with an open understory and large, nut-producing trees. Across the United States, Red Headed Woodpecker numbers have declined substantially due to habitat loss and competition for nest sites with invasive European Starlings.
Even these brief visits constitute tangible evidence that the Arb’s attempts to restore tallgrass prairie and oak savannah habitats are headed in the right direction. But just as importantly, the visits offer a glimpse of what the Arb can become with continued hard work and patience.