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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Forest-nesting birds prefer forests near farms, not homes
URI student research says unfragmented forest even better

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 28, 2000 -- When selecting a forest in which to build a nest and raise young, migratory songbirds prefer forested land adjacent to agricultural areas over forests adjacent to residential developments, according to a study conducted by a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island.

Colin Studds of Providence said his research indicates that large continuous tracts of forest, rather than forests that have been divided for other uses, are the most preferred nesting sites for these birds.

"The focus of this research was to ask the question, 'when forested land is developed, does it matter to birds what kind of land use replaces the forest?'" explained Studds. "Our results to this point suggest that it may matter."

Studds' research focuses on ovenbirds small, common, ground-nesting songbirds that winter in the tropics and breed in forests throughout the Northeast and Midwest though he believes that his results may be true for other forest-dwelling migrants as well.

"When people carve a forest into smaller patches and reduce the overall amount of forest on the landscape, certain bird species will no longer breed there, and those that do may experience high nest predation rates," said Studds. "I'm interested in whether certain land uses might contribute to these trends more so than others."

Studds and a team of six other students mapped out twelve 12-hectare forest plots and monitored the activities of the ovenbirds in each plot. The sites were visited every three days during the breeding season to track the movements of each singing male and to identify the territory of each breeding pair.

"This gave us an accurate assessment of how ovenbird density varied among forests surrounded by different land uses," said Studds.

According to Studds, the size of the birds' territories ranged from 1/4 hectare to two hectares, depending on the land use surrounding the forest. He found an average of 16 breeding pairs of ovenbirds in unfragmented forest plots, while nine pairs were found in each forest adjacent to agricultural areas, and just 3.5 pairs were found adjacent to residential areas.

"Ovenbird densities were much lower in forests near residential development because the birds really seem to avoid the forest edge in these landscapes. Most territories were located more than 200 meters in from the edge in residential landscapes, whereas ovenbirds regularly held territories right next to agricultural fields."

The implications of his research are clear, said Studds. "If we want to continue to protect forests for open space, we are forced with choosing which of the remaining forests to protect. Based on this study, it appears the best bet is to protect forests near agricultural areas because birds are more abundant there and there is a much greater diversity of species."

Christopher Monti, a URI student from Jamestown, has been awarded a Coastal Fellowship from the University to continue Studds' research over the next year.

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For Information: Todd McLeish 874-7892


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