Sagebrush Songbirds

Four years of dedicated research demonstrates that sagebrush-obligates have higher reproductive success when trees are removed for sage grouse.

Who fits under the sage grouse umbrella?

For four summers, researcher Elise Zarri and a team of technicians monitored songbirds in different plots in the Medicine Lodge area of southwest Montana. Half of the plots were located where encroaching trees had been removed and half were in locations where trees were left on the landscape.

Their goal was to see how different bird species responded to conifer management targeted at sage grouse.

They found that the more the birds' habitat use aligned with sage grouse, the more they benefited from tree removal. Three of the species, Sage Thrasher, Vesper Sparrow and Brewer's Sparrow, saw more reproductive success in areas where trees were removed, showing that conifer removal targeted for sage grouse also benefited these songbirds.

As part of the research, Elise and her team set up video cameras to record nest activity for the different species they studied. Those videos are included below. Caution, they do show depredation that may be disturbing for some viewers.

This research was supported by the Bureau of Land Management, Working Lands for Wildlife, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, with additional support from the Southwest Montana Sagebrush Partnership.

Sagebrush Conservation

Umbrella Species Management Works for Sagebrush Songbirds


Increase in Brewer's Sparrow fledgling production where encroaching trees were removed


More Vesper Sparrows found in areas where encroaching trees were removed


Sage Thrashers found in areas where trees had encroached


Summers the research team spent in southwest Montana collecting data

Songbird Videos

Success Through science

Real People, Real Science

“It’s one of those really fun stories where we can have this win-win relationship, where management action that’s beneficial for wildlife, not just birds but also big game, also has benefits for cattle and people who rely on this land for their livelihoods.”

Elise Zarri, Lead Researcher

Publication Alert: Impacts of Umbrella Species Management on Non-Target Species

Researcher Elise Zarri’s study examined how removing conifer trees for sage grouse impacted abundance and reproductive success of eight songbird species that primarily nest in sagebrush habitat – two sagebrush-dependent species, two shrubland-generalists, and four others that live in sagebrush country but are more associated with edge and woodland habitat.

Importantly, Zarri’s research focused both on bird abundance and on how successfully they reproduced over the course of a season. The findings show that population benefits accrue when songbird habitat use aligns with that of sage grouse.

This research appeared in the Journal of Applied Ecology in spring 2024.