The “Sand Runners”
A buzzy, insect-like “tick tucka zreeeee” resonates from the lower tip of a plant stalk in the middle of the prairie. A hidden “tssssslipp” echoes underfoot in two or three spots. These interesting sounds always add some mystery to the spring and summer grasslands in special places of the Oak Openings region.
The mystery surrounds what is making those sounds. A grasshopper or another large insect? Look closer---or not. The sounds are coming from easily overlooked birds appropriately named, “grasshopper sparrow” and the Henslow’s sparrow (named by Audubon in honor of his friend, John Stevens Henslow). Secretive and camouflaged, both species eat, sleep, and nest on the ground. The grasshopper sparrow will fly a short distance if approached or flushed from its nest and then disappear quickly down into the grass, often hopping or darting away. Inconspicuously perched when singing, Henslow’s sparrows mostly prefer walking or running. The Genus of both of these species is Ammodramus, Greek for “sand runner,” and suits the behavior of both.
The sandy, upland grasslands of the Oak Openings region are favored for nesting sites if they include larger tracts, rather than smaller, more fragmented pieces of land. Both bird species are also very particular about the type and height of grasses at sites and very much depend on prescribed burning to maintain their preferred habitat. Metroparks is working to connect and re-establish more prairie sites over time through habitat restoration in Oak Openings Preserve Metropark and throughout the Oak Openings corridor for these species. The good news is---both grasshopper sparrows and Henslow’s sparrows have been found nesting successfully at a few Metropark sites in the last few years, adding more grassland bird biodiversity to our region.
Did you know? According to the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, grassland birds have suffered steep losses---a 53% decrease since 1970.