IBA Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie
Melita, Manitoba
Site Summary
MB024 Latitude
49.213° N
101.153° W
425 - 463 m
1,580.34 km²
deciduous woods (temperate), scrub/shrub, native grassland, rivers/streams, arable & cultivated lands, improved pastureland
Land Use:
Agriculture, Nature conservation and research, Rangeland/pastureland
Potential or ongoing Threats:
Agricultural pollution/pesticides, Deforestation, Drought, Extraction industry, Grazing, Intensified management
IBA Criteria: Nationally Significant: Congregatory Species
Conservation status: IBA Conservation Plan written/being written, Wildlife Management Area
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Site Description
The extreme southwestern corner of Manitoba, containing the towns of Melita, Lyleton, Pierson and Coulter, is the driest part of the province and is dominated by sandy soils, extensive rangeland and the odd tract of mixed-grass prairie. Most of the area, even the grasslands, has been cultivated at one time or another. Along the Souris River and its tributaries are coulees of scrub and deciduous riparian woodlands. Near Lyleton, hundreds of miles of shelterbelts were established to prevent wind erosion during the 1930s. Four small Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) occur in the area. The Broomhill WMA is dominated by grassland and shrubs. Near Melita, a wide variety of introduced and planted trees and shrubs have established at the Gerald Malaher WMA. There are two widely spaced units of Pierson WMA: the Gainsborough Creek unit south of Melita contains native uplands, riparian forests and shrubland, while the Frank W. Boyd unit near Pierson is dominated by native aspen parklands woods and willow shrubbery. The recently-established Mixed-grass Prairie Preserve, southwest of Broomhill, illustrates the relationship between grazing mammals and native prairie.
The Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-Grass Prairie area is rich in grassland and parkland birds, and is especially notable for rare prairie birds that are at the northern edge of their range. Six of these species are on the list of national endangered species. The rarest of these is the nationally endangered Burrowing Owl, for which the extreme southwest is the provincial hotspot. In the 1980s, 30 pairs were present. Numbers plummeted to no known pairs for several years after 1996, followed by a resurgence to 9-13 pairs in the province from 2006-2009, with a subsequent plunge to near zero known pairs in recent years. This area also holds most of Manitoba’s nesting Ferruginous Hawks, a nationally threatened species. Although less than 20 pairs currently occur in Manitoba (most of these in the SW Mixed-grass Prairie IBA), over 50 pairs nested in southwest Manitoba throughout most of the 1990s. The threatened Loggerhead Shrike also occurs in significant numbers here. But like the Burrowing Owl and Ferruginous Hawk, its numbers have plummeted considerably in the last couple decades due to various limiting factors related to unusually wet summer conditions. Prior to the mid-1990s. over 200 pairs were known from the province, probably three-quarters occurring in the extreme southwest corner. More recently, nesting numbers have dropped to less than 50 pairs per year, most of these in the IBA. A minimum of 58 territorial Sprague’s Pipits were recorded on a single day in July 2016. The Chestnut-collared Longspur is also present in good numbers, 238 individuals being counted on a single day in June 2015. This IBA also supports most of Manitoba’s nesting population of Baird’s Sparrow.

Grassland areas within the IBA are rapidly becoming a popular ecotourist attraction. Each year, hundreds of bird-watchers from throughout North America visit this area to find widely sought-after grassland birds. The province of Manitoba and Watchable Wildlife have produced a 'Manitoba Grassland Bird Trail' guide to assist those exploring the area. In addition to the above-mentioned species, specialties of the area that occur in the IBA in reasonable numbers include Sharp-tailed Grouse, Marbled Godwit, Upland Sandpiper, Says Phoebe, Willow Flycatcher and Grasshopper Sparrow. This is also the most likely area in the province to see uncommon breeding grassland birds for Manitoba such as Lark Bunting (in dry years) and Dickcissel.

The IBA contains some temporary and permanent wetland areas, especially during wet-cycles, providing habitat for breeding and migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. Nationally rare species including the Yellow Rail (Special Concern) breed on occasion in the IBA. Large concentrations of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, with the occasional Whooping Crane, migrate through and stay for a few weeks.

IBA Criteria
SpeciesT | A | I Links Date Season Number G C N
Burrowing Owl 1985 SU 60
Chestnut-collared Longspur 2015 - 2016 SU 98 - 250
Ferruginous Hawk 1995 - 2004 SU 76 - 112
Loggerhead Shrike 1992 - 2020 FA 1 - 5
Loggerhead Shrike 1996 - 2020 SP 1 - 12
Loggerhead Shrike 1990 - 2020 SU 1 - 654
Rusty Blackbird 2015 FA 65
Rusty Blackbird 2007 - 2019 SP 24 - 50
Rusty Blackbird 2007 WI 24
Sprague's Pipit 2015 - 2016 SU 40 - 70
Whooping Crane 2009 FA 1
Note: species shown in bold indicate that the maximum number exceeds at least one of the IBA thresholds (sub-regional, regional or global). The site may still not qualify for that level of IBA if the maximum number reflects an exceptional or historical occurrence.
Conservation Issues
Several conservation issues are worthy of note in this unprotected, primarily private-lands IBA. Overgrazing and conversion of grasslands are situations that can lead to an elimination or deterioration of native prairie. On the other hand, shelterbelts planted to minimize soil erosion are dying and being eliminated; these are of importance to a wide variety of birds, including shrikes.

A large bed of sandy soils underlies the surface of much of this area, particularly in habitats favoured by breeding shrikes, Ferruginous Hawks, Baird’s Sparrows and Sprague’s Pipits. There has also been a proliferation of subsurface exploration for oil, with new oil wells and frequently travelled roads leading to habitat loss and increased mortality of wildlife.

Manitoba’s Wildlife Branch, in conjunction with various local conservation groups, have monitored and conducted management efforts on grassland species at risk in this area since the early 1980s. Their efforts have spurred a greatly enhanced interest in preserving grassland birds in this unique area by local, national and international conservation agencies and individuals.

The IBA Program is an international conservation initiative coordinated by BirdLife International. The Canadian co-partners for the IBA Program are Birds Canada and Nature Canada.
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