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A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

A land manager's guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in ...

Ruby-throated

Ruby-throated Hummingbird — Photo: Robert McCaw spend their winters in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and breed and raise their young in North America during the summer. Many are experiencing declines not only in Ontario, but throughout their range. It is important to address population declines before species become endangered or threatened and conservation efforts become increasingly costly and difficult. Research over the past 20 years has shown that habitat degradation caused by deforestation, urban sprawl, and coastal development on breeding, stopover, and wintering areas has the most influence on migratory bird populations. Yet, forest fragmentation (breaking the forest into smaller, more isolated patches) and harvesting activities have significantly altered the quality of remaining habitat. On breeding grounds (i.e., southern Ontario) these factors can significantly affect density, survival, reproductive success, and population sustainability. As birds play a valuable role in the ecosystem, providing a place where they can live and breed in your forest will help control insects, pollinate plants, and disperse seeds. Careful management of forests on public and private lands may be our greatest opportunity to reverse population declines. With the help of this guide it is our hope that interested landowners will be able to enhance habitat for birds by implementing favourable land use practices. Now is the time to use the knowledge we have gained to reverse negative trends and ensure that common species remain common. Passenger Pigeon — Artwork: Peter Burke Clear cutting of the forests is believed to be one of the main contributing factors in the extinction of the passenger pigeon. As forests were cleared and fragmented it became harder for their large colonies to nest together. As well, many of the pigeons’ favourite nesting sites, with mast bearing trees, were simply eliminated. We should never forget the passenger pigeon. Its fate serves as a lesson for all humanity, in that even the most numerous bird on earth can, both directly (hunting), and indirectly (clear cutting) be wiped out by mankind. 8 Introduction

Researcher removing bird from net — photo: Scott Gillingwater How do we measure bird population trends? The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) was created in 1996 as a large-scale avian monitoring program to track the status and trends of North American bird populations. Managed as a cooperative effort between the United States Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Canadian Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Research Centre, the BBS is an important tool for identifying bird conservation priorities. Following a rigorous protocol, BBS data are collected annually by thousands of volunteers skilled in bird identification. Audio and visual point counts are used to survey breeding bird composition at randomly established roadside routes throughout Canada and the United States. Once analyzed, the data provides an index of bird abundance that can be used to determine population trends of more than 400 bird species. Migration monitoring stations are also used to track the number of birds migrating along migration flyways each year. Special nets catch birds and allow them to be tagged and counted by species, age, and sex. Some stations have been running since the 1960s, monitoring migrating birds in both the spring and fall. The numbers passing through and information on those banded and released at these stations can be used to track year-to-year changes. Other programs are run at a mix of scales to track populations (www.mnr.gov.on.ca/ stdprodconsume/groups/lr/@mnr/@lueps/documents/document/mnr_e001791.pdf). One of these includes the Forest Bird Monitoring Program (FBMP) which began in Ontario in 1987 to provide information on population trends and habitat associations of birds that breed in the forest interior. Sites consist of three to five stations in woodlands where volunteers who are skilled at identifying birds by sight and sound, perform 10 minute surveys, called point counts, twice between late May and early July. The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) represents the longest running wildlife census used to assess the health of bird populations and help guide conservation action. 2009 marked the 109 th year citizen scientists annually braved snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the count. Over 2000 localities across Canada, United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean conduct CBCs; 70 are located in Ontario. These observations have combined into a huge database that reflects the distribution and numbers of winter birds over time. The principal objective is to cover a 24 kilometre (km) diameter circle as completely as possible, tallying all the birds encountered, on a single day during a two and a half week period around Christmas. These data are then compiled and submitted to the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. The Ontario Birds at Risk (OBAR) program was launched in 1994 to work towards the protection and recovery of vulnerable, threatened, endangered and other bird species at risk in Ontario. OBAR is designed to monitor the status of these species and their habitats, and to provide the necessary data to develop management plans for their protection. OBAR is a joint undertaking of Bird Studies Canada and the Ontario Nature, in cooperation with the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Natural Heritage Information Centre, the Ontario Field Ornithologists, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and the Royal Ontario Museum. A Site Registry serves as the primary means of collecting and maintaining up-to-date information on the distribution of OBAR target species. The database includes information on confirmed, former, probable, and possible breeding locations, as well as sighting records for species that are considered critically endangered. All location data contributed to the site registry program is strictly confidential. Knowledge of population levels and trends is fundamental to the management and conservation of biodiversity. Yet, measuring thousands of birds on such a large-scale is virtually impossible. None of these methods is completely accurate, but they can reveal general patterns, and together they provide evidence that there are fewer songbirds today than there were 40 years ago. Swainson’s Thrush captured in mist net — Photo: Scott Gillingwater Researcher conducting audio and visual point count survey — Photo: OMNR Introduction 9

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