Oak savannas were historically common but are currently rare in the Midwestern United States. We assessed possible associations of bird species with savannas and other threatened habitats in the region by relating fire frequency and vegetation characteristics to seasonal densities of 72 bird species distributed across an open–forest gradient in northwestern Indiana. About one-third of the species did not exhibit statistically significant relationships with any combination of seven vegetation characteristics that included vegetation cover in five vertical strata, dead tree density, and tree height. For 40% of the remaining species, models best predicting species density incorporated tree density. Therefore, management based solely on manipulating tree density may not be an adequate strategy for managing bird populations along this open–forest gradient. Few species exhibited sharp peaks in predicted density under habitat conditions expected in restored savannas, suggesting that few savanna specialists occur among Midwestern bird species. When fire frequency, measured over fifteen years, was added to vegetation characteristics as a predictor of species density, it was incorporated into models for about one-quarter of species, suggesting that fire may modify habitat characteristics in ways that are important for birds but not captured by the structural habitat variables measured. Among those species, similar numbers had peaks in predicted density at low, intermediate, or high fire frequency. For species suggested by previous studies to have a preference for oak savannas along the open–forest gradient, estimated density was maximized at an average fire return interval of about one fire every three years.
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Vol. 109 • No. 4