Midwestern states have invested extensively in grasslands for wildlife conservation, yet these public lands make up a minority of grassland habitat. How effective are public grasslands, relative to private lands, for conserving native songbird populations? I compare private and public lands in southern Minnesota using bird survey data from Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields and public lands and assessing fragmentation in a GIS. Bird abundance and diversity were greater on CRP lands. Vegetation composition, field isolation, and field size appear to explain differences in bird counts. Land cover data show that grassland habitat on public lands is scarce and widely scattered. The CRP provides more, and here better, habitat for grassland birds. Funding partly explains this disparity. Trends in farm set-aside program rules and distribution, which can be vary greatly over time, will strongly influence the success or failure of biodiversity conservation in this region.