Mount Magazine is an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it harbors what is now the only known population of Rufous-crowned Sparrows remaining in Arkansas, and the eastern-most population in the world. This species used to live the high life at other peaks such as Mount Nebo and Pinnacle Mountain. Unfortunately, their habitat disappeared due to a lack of management. Fortunately, they are easily accessible at Mount Magazine IBA if you know where and when to look.
Mount Magazine sits between Paris and Havana, AR. Signal Hill (2,753 ft in elevation) at the top of the mountain, is the highest point in Arkansas. The mountain is owned by the US Forest Service as part of Ozark National Forest. The top portion is leased to Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism as Mount Magazine State Park. The land surrounding park is a wildlife management area, established through a cooperative agreement with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The habitat is mostly oak-hickory with juniper-hardwood glades on the south rim.
Since their discovery by Bill Shepherd in 1972, Rufous-crowned Sparrows have been known to consistently breed there. Up to nine birds have been seen in a single day, and begging juveniles have been observed. Other species of conservation concern include Northern Bobwhite, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Cerulean Warbler. Thousands of migrating raptors may pass by including Broad-winged, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, Swainson’s, Sharp-shinned, and Cooper’s Hawks, Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon. Rarities, documented in large part by park interpreter Don Simons, include Townsend’s Solitaire, Rock Wren, and Snow Bunting.
In Arkansas, Rufous-crowned Sparrows occupy only south-facing bluffs dominated by sparse juniper-hardwood forest with a grassy understory. Periodic disturbance through fire or thinning is needed to maintain this habitat type. A lack of disturbance at all previously occupied breeding sites led to the loss of those populations. The Forest Service burns and thins along Mount Magazine’s bluff to maximize sparrow habitat. Perhaps sparrows will return to Pinnacle Mountain now that prescribed fire has been reintroduced.
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