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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 ...

Ovenbird —

Ovenbird — Photo: Marie Read “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Maya Angelou 14

Male Chestnut-sided Warbler — Photo: Brandon Holden FOREST BIRDS IN ONTARIO Well-concealed Chestnut-sided Warbler nest in shrub — Photo: OMNR In order to develop an understanding of the factors that affect songbirds on their breeding grounds we must first gain some appreciation of their life cycle and basic habitat needs. Migration Southern Ontario forests are home to nearly 100 species of breeding birds. One-third (33 percent) of these are resident birds like the Black-capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker, seen year round. The rest are migrants that breed and raise their young in Ontario during the summer, and spend the winter in more southern locations. Some migrants travel short distances (southern United States) to their wintering grounds, while others travel up to 10,000 km to the Neotropics (Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean). Migrant songbirds typically start arriving on the breeding grounds in southern Ontario in early May, though the timing varies by species. Generally, older males will arrive first, then younger males, followed by older females, and finally the young females. These birds will have a few short months to nest—the success of their populations hinging on how many young they will be able to successfully fledge from their nests each year. Depending on the species, each pair will attempt to raise one or two families (broods), usually of two to five young. This is no small task for most songbirds breeding in forest fragments of southern Ontario, as they face a myriad of challenges, including nest predation, nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (see below), and food limitations, all of which can have a strong impact on their ability to successfully raise their young. Despite this long list of challenges, by migrating from one place to another, birds have evolved a way to take advantage of food and shelter that is scarce in certain geographic areas at particular times. Habitats on the wintering grounds (like the Caribbean) offer feeding opportunities that are not available during the winter on the breeding grounds (like southern Ontario) when freezing temperatures eliminate insects and other food resources. Habitats on the breeding grounds provide high insect populations, long days, and breeding opportunities with less competition, compared with the wintering grounds where migrants have to compete with residents and their preferred food sources become scarce. In the end, it pays for migrants to make the effort to relocate north to woodlots in southern Ontario each spring to breed, where they can raise more offspring than if they had remained on their wintering grounds to compete with resident birds breeding there. Breeding Biology Each species has a unique nesting strategy. Some, called cup nesters, build nests like those of the American Robin, with sticks, leaves, plant fibres, strips of bark, mud, spider webs, or animal hair. These cup nesters will place well concealed nests on the ground, in shrubs or small saplings, or high in the canopy, depending on the species and habitat. Others, called cavity nesters, build nests in tree holes. Cavity nesters are divided into two groups: primary cavity nesters, like the Pileated Woodpecker, which dig out their own hole; and secondary cavity nesters, like the Great Crested Flycatcher, which use existing cavities (often made by primary cavity nesters, but include natural tree holes) for their nest. Once a nest is constructed, birds will lay one egg a day until Pileated Woodpecker cavity — Photo: OMNR Forest Birds in Ontario 15

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