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
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
"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