Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

December 2015

Vol. 43, No. 6

Bear Creek Sanctuary: An Urban Grassland

Soheil Zendeh

Bobolink at Bear Creek Sanctuary (all photographs by the author).

The establishment and preservation of Bear Creek Sanctuary in Saugus, Massachusetts, brings together two large and complex stories in the world of environmental issues: the fate of North American grasslands and their denizens, and public policy regarding waste management. In this article I will summarize the issues surrounding grasslands and waste disposal and then describe some of the highlights of our years of birding at Bear Creek.


Grasslands stretch across the North American continent for thousands of miles. The farm country that starts in Ohio and dominates the landscape into Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado and stretches north into Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario was originally tallgrass prairie in the east and shortgrass prairie in the west. The prairie was home to immense roaming herds of American bison and the Native American tribes that depended on them. Other denizens of these grasslands are mammals such as prairie dog, black-footed ferret, and a variety of burrowing rodents; birds such as grouse, Ferruginous and Swainson’s hawks, Upland Sandpiper, Burrowing Owl, Prairie Falcon, longspurs, Horned Lark, Dickcissel, Savannah, Grasshopper, Vesper, and Baird’s sparrows, Bobolink, and meadowlarks; the prairie rattlesnake; and a variety of grasses and shrubs adapted to the windswept undulating plains.

Unfortunately, many of the grassland areas that used to support these animals are now vast monocultures—turned into one-crop farmlands—and only remnant portions of North America’s original grasslands exist. The result is that many grassland species are in serious decline and some are endangered.

To view the rest of the article you'll need to subscribe. Bird Observer publishes original articles on birding locations, on avian populations and natural history, on regional rarities, and field notes, Massachusetts field records, photographs, and art work.