Drew Lanham: Songbird Habitat Restoration

J. Drew Lanham, PhD
Professor of Forest Wildlife Ecology

Who would ever think that a landfill could become an important habitat for declining species of songbirds? I’m Drew Lanham, associate professor of wildlife in the Clemson University department of forestry and natural resources.

A few years ago I was making my contribution to the landfill, as most people do on any given Saturday, bringing a load of trash. As I was coming out of the landfill, I heard an insect-like trill. Stopping and confirming the sound belonged to a small bird known as a grasshopper sparrow, a declining species across most of the eastern United States and a species of concern in South Carolina.

Finding this grasshopper sparrow here in the Seneca (S.C.) landfill was certainly surprising to me but I decided to investigate further and, with the cooperation of the Oconee County Solid Waste facility, we were able to initiate a study here where we looked at the songbird composition at this landfill. We found to our surprise not only grasshopper sparrows, but a number of other grassland species that existed here: Eastern meadowlarks, blue grosbeaks, and the occasional northern bobwhite quail.

One of the things we are finding in my research is that a lot of wildlife can exist in places that might seem unfamiliar to us as wildlife habitat. This landfill kind of serves as a surrogate prairie. There are other places that serve as wetlands that we don’t typically think of as typical wetlands. And so, with the sounds you here in the background of the heavy machinery kind of overshadowing the birdsong, we can think of what’s going to come with construction of the new portion of this landfill.

Over time it’s going to provide very good habitat for grasshopper sparrows and meadowlarks and other grassland birds that otherwise wouldn’t find a home in this developing landscape. If you want to find out more about wildlife habitat relationships, click on the Clemson University Forestry and Natural Resources homepage and check out my research.

Drew Lanham
Forestry and Natural Resources