henslows sparrow joseph morlan croppedThe Henslow’s Sparrow is one of several threatened species found at Badger Army Ammunition Plant.  Its population numbers have declined steadily over the past few decades, largely because of habitat loss. The U.S. population of this uncommon species declined more than 68% from 1966-1991.  Photograph by Joseph Morlan.


Amid the abandoned production buildings at the now-silent Badger Army Ammunition Plant, singing in tall bending grasses, and nestled in pastures dotted with grazing cattle, scientists have found a rich variety of grassland birds and habitat that may play a critical role in wildlife conservation and efforts to protect the Nation’s migratory birds.  Of the migratory birds undergoing the most serious declines, grassland birds have undergone many of the steepest declines, and these are the very birds found at Badger.

In 2003, biologists with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) found that Badger provides habitat for 97 confirmed or probable breeding bird species, of which 21 are grassland and shrubland dependent. One factor in the apparent success of bird species at Badger is the remarkable size of this property.

The 7,354-acre Badger property provides a variety of habitats which in turn have attracted a wide range of species.  Some grassland birds, such as Upland Sandpiper, require short grass habitat.  Others, such as Bobolink and Henslow’s Sparrow, require habitat with taller grasses. Sufficient acreage for both short and tall grass habitat, providing an environment with such a rich variety of species, is found in few places in the Midwest simply because most other properties are too small in this regard.

Clearly, the Badger lands are critically important in maintaining, and possibly recovering, some of the biological richness of Sauk County’s disappearing native grasslands. Badger plays a crucial role in protecting Sauk County’s natural heritage. That role can change, for better or worse, as Badger’s future is decided.


  • The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All about Birds, accessed online at allaboutbirds.org.
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Endangered Resources Program, fact sheet, Henslow’s Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii), January 2014.
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Regional & Property Analysis: Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, July 2012.
  • Wisconsin’s Natural Heritage Inventory Program, Bureau of Endangered Resources, Rapid Ecological Assessment for the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area, December 2011.