Transect bird surveys were conducted at 43 tallgrass prairies in southwestern Missouri, U.S.A. in mid-June each year
from 1992 to 1999. Litter volume on and near the ground was estimated on a nine-point scale during 1994 to 1999.
The relative importance of management type (rotational burning, rotational haying, or a combination of both) and litter
volume on relative abundance was analysed for three declining grassland songbirds: Henslow's Sparrow Ammodramus
henslowii, Grasshopper Sparrow A. savannarum, and Dickcissel Spiza americana. Haying resulted in significantly
higher abundance than burning for all species except Dickcissel, for which few significant management effects were
detected. Henslow's Sparrow increased in abundance from light to heavy litter, Grasshopper Sparrow peaked in low
to intermediate litter, and Dickcissel showed little pattern relative to litter. Litter scores recorded in each management
type increased with number of years since last treatment. Although litter profoundly affected bird abundance, independent and equally important was whether that litter was obtained via haying or burning. Greater consistency among years
in hayed vegetation structure may help explain these birds' preference for haying over burning or haying + burning.
Rotational haying should be employed more than burning in the management of these declining birds, especially for
the sharply declining, fire-sensitive Henslow's and Grasshopper Sparrows.