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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 ...


European Starlings—Photo: J. Fuhrman/VIREO Landscape Composition The habitat quality of a forest patch needs to be considered in a landscape context. For instance, the value of a 50 ha forest fragment in providing habitat for area sensitive birds depends considerably on the amount of regional forest cover. A large forest patch may be more important in a heavily fragmented landscape where it is the only forest patch in which birds are able to survive and reproduce, compared to an extensively forested region where it is one of many. Bird populations do not exist in isolation. Effective management hinges on considering the composition of the surrounding landscape as well as the patch itself. A rich landscape will have a diversity of habitat types at a variety of successional stages including: old growth forest, deep interior forest, mid-successional forest, and early successional forest. Ultimately, such a landscape would have the greatest potential to support the greatest diversity of species. Urban Sprawl and Urbanization Another major process affecting forests of southern Ontario is urbanization, which includes the expansion and sprawl of cities, towns, and villages and the trend towards rural living. This often entails the construction of subdivisions and individual homes within or adjacent to woodlots. Urbanization is particularly damaging to natural landscapes because the conversion from a forest to an urban environment of pavement and buildings is not only permanent but is occurring on a large scale. Urban sprawl results in habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as numerous human induced stressors that are either exclusive to, or greatly amplified in urban areas. When we look at the urban gradient we see changes in species composition, diversity, and abundance. The changes that occur at the urbanized end are those associated with a loss of bird species in the region as well as a decrease in the ability of the forest to perform some functions, like cleaning Typical Southern Ontario Landscape Artwork: Peter Burke 30 The Fragmented Forest

destroy nests, and lawns that provide rich feeding grounds for cowbirds. Houses placed adjacent to a woodlot rather than within a woodlot have less of a negative impact on forest bird populations. In Ontario, though forest cover has increased over the past few decades, fragmentation has also increased at least in part due to an increased intrusion of rural residences into the forests. Pigeons on street light — Photo: R. Curtis, VIREO the air and water. Urban animal communities are dominated by a few super-abundant species. As you move into suburban and rural development, this land-use does not invariably destroy forests, but can radically alter the surrounding landscape. While a few species can adapt to human shaped environments, many cannot. Sprawl occurs at the expense of many species that depend on fragile local habitats. In particular, sprawl will cause a decline in habitat specialists and less mobile species. Adjacent Housing The impact of adjacent housing, roads, human activity, and exotic species can lead to severe habitat degradation in urban and rural environments. The number of houses surrounding a forest patch can affect its habitat suitability for many Neotropical migrants. For example, a study in Ontario found Wood Thrushes were absent from fairly large woodlots that were surrounded by numerous houses, but were frequently found in small woodlots with few or no houses on their borders. The presence of houses can also reduce productivity. Houses harbour dogs and cats that may Roads Roads can create barriers to movement. Forest birds may avoid crossing roads or suffer increased mortality from crossing roads. Vehicle traffic noise can be a significant stressor to nesting songbirds, and breeding bird densities are often reduced along roads with high traffic volume. Roads act as edges and forest birds nesting along them may suffer higher rates of predation and parasitism. Road bisecting forest — Photo: Lucas Foerster Photo: Dawn Burke Exotic Species As habitats become urbanized the number of exotic and invasive plants often increases at the expense of native vegetation. The vegetation structure in urban areas is often simplified with fewer dead standing trees, less cover at mid and upper levels, and more ground cover than in natural environments. This reduces bird diversity as specialized groups, like cavity nesters, canopy feeding, and bark foraging guilds are replaced by high densities of generalists or non-native species, like European Starlings and House Sparrows that thrive in heavily disturbed environments. Exotic vegetation can have reduced insect biomass, thus providing less food for breeding birds. Species nesting in this vegetation may suffer increased predation, due to poor habitat structure. The Fragmented Forest 31

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