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Using Public Land Cover Data to Determine Habitat Associations of Breeding Birds in Tuskegee National Forest, Alabama

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A decline in the numbers of breeding songbirds is assumed to be related to habitat loss, but for many species, habitat needs during the breeding season are not well understood. Therefore, we developed habitat use models to quantify habitat relationships for breeding birds within a mostly forested landscape centered on Tuskegee National Forest, Alabama. We conducted bird counts at 338 points and derived habitat characteristics within 100 m of each point using the Alabama Gap Analysis Program land cover map and the National Land Cover Database Tree Canopy Cover map. We modeled avian abundances and habitat associations based on cover type and canopy cover using N-mixture models. We detected more than 16,000 individuals of 85 species, and we present models of abundances for 42 species. Canopy cover was the most influential habitat characteristic, although many species abundances were influenced by cover type. For most species, detection was influenced by observer; date, time, and weather variables were less important in determining detectability. We demonstrate how bird habitat associations can be modeled at a coarse spatial scale using publicly available land cover maps. Our observations regarding the habitat associations of birds in Tuskegee National Forest may be applicable elsewhere within the East Gulf Coastal Plain, but the regional specificity of habitat use should be tested before such extrapolations are justified.
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Keywords: Alabama; East Gulf Coastal Plain; Gap Analysis Program; avian communities; birds; detectability; habitat associations

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 November 2011

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