- June 9, 2011
Forests are simply habitats dominated by trees, and there are some 680 species of native trees in North America. Ecologists recognize many different kinds of forest, but woodland birds are often found across a variety of these forest types. Nevertheless, forest birds across the United States are relatively specialized, nesting and feeding in unique layers of the canopy, or utilizing the entire canopy. The factors driving the dramatic differences between eastern and western forests (precipitation, soil, fire frequency, etc.) are also behind the east-west split in forest bird distributions.
See the Forest for the Trees
If you have a back 40 or a woody lot, you can manage it as part of the larger forest ecosystem (be sure to find out what ecoregion you belong to). In a healthy forest, structural complexity is abundant. But if you’re not promoting the native plants in your forest, you could be missing out on having 3 times more Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths, i.e., “bird food”) in your woods 1. When you think of boosting your butterflies, you might think of showy flower beds; but actually, a study has shown that woody plants support 10 times more species of Lepidoptera than herbaceous plants 2!
Knock on Wood
A forest is not a garden, but you can still prune, edit, and cultivate! Protect young saplings of valuable trees, like oaks or conifers, from browsing mammals. You could take out invasive species to shed some light on your more interesting native trees (even making some brush piles out of them!). Preserve any existing old growth habitat (over 150 years of no disturbance), and keep any snags (dead standing trees) present. And if your forest is still young and lacking snags, you can provide nest boxes for cavity-nesting birds, like Wood Duck. If you have identified any tree diseases, report them to your local cooperative extension office, and know that birds help to control insect pests. We know understanding the complexity of a forest is challenging, just like finding birds high in the canopy, but you can use YardMap to develop a deeper appreciation for your forested patch!
Anyone who has tried to garden in a yard that deer have access to is familiar with their ability to strip a yard of plants. This is also a problem in forested landscapes. Many bird species (Eastern Towhees, Hooded Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, Worm-eating Warblers, some wrens, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrashers, Veeries, Wood Thrushes and, really, any warbler that nests in the understory) rely on the shrubby undergrowth found in forests not over-browsed by deer. Some researchers are investigating the impact of deer browse on forest birds’ abilities to successfully breed. We know that dense understory vegetation promotes survival in recently fledged forest songbirds 3, so consider managing or excluding deer if they are overabundant in your forest.