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Microhabitat Selection of Bark-Foraging Birds in Response to Fire and Fire Surrogate Treatments

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We examined the short-term response of the bark-foraging bird community to mechanical thinning, prescribed fire, and thinning/prescribed fire combination treatments designed to reduce fuel loads at study sites throughout the continental United States as part of the national Fire and Fire Surrogate (FFS) project. We modeled the effects of study site, treatment, treatment category, and time since treatment on the foraging encounter rate of four individual species (red-breasted nuthatch [Sitta canadensis], mountain chickadee [Poecile gambeli], hairy woodpecker [Picoides villosus], and brown creeper [Certhia americana]) and assessed the relative importance of several tree and snag characteristics in the selection of foraging trees by these same species. The foraging encounter rate of all four species responded inconsistently across both treatment categories and study sites. Substrate diameter was the strongest and most consistent characteristic positively influencing the selection of foraging habitat structures for all species across all treatment categories. Other influential variables included the presence of bark beetles for red-breasted nuthatches, hairy woodpeckers, and brown creepers in control and burn-only treatment areas and tree species for brown creepers in burn-only and thin-only treatment areas. Although this study did not detect any major negative treatment response by any species, our results suggest that there is substantial variability in the reaction of this particular bird community to fuel reduction treatments and that managers may need to evaluate the effects of these treatments on a site-by-site and species-by-species basis.

Keywords: cavity-nesting birds; forest restoration; mechanical; prescribed burning; thinning

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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