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1 May 2010 Importance of Montane Riparian Forest and Influence of Wildfire on Nest-Site Selection of Ground-Nesting Birds
Chris Kirkpatrick, Courtney J. Conway
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We studied breeding populations of 2 coexisting ground-nesting birds, the red-faced warbler (Cardellina rubrifrons) and yellow-eyed junco (Junco phaeonotus), in high-elevation (>2,000 m) forested drainages of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Arizona, USA. From 2004 to 2005, we 1) estimated density and nesting success of breeding populations of red-faced warblers and yellow-eyed juncos, 2) identified nest-site characteristics for each species (i.e., used sites vs. random plots), 3) compared nest-site characteristics between the 2 species, and 4) examined effects of a recent (2003) wildfire on distribution of nests of both species. In addition, we estimated the areal extent of montane riparian forest (the preferred breeding habitat of both species) within high-elevation forests of the Santa Catalina Mountains. We found that red-faced warblers and yellow-eyed juncos were the 2 most common ground-nesting birds within our study area with an average density of 2.4 and 1.4 singing males/ha, respectively, along drainage bottoms. Compared to random plots, most red-faced warbler and yellow-eyed junco nests were located close (≤30 m) to drainage bottoms within a strip of montane riparian forest characterized by abundant brush, small woody debris, ferns, and forbs (both species), high number and diversity of saplings and small trees (red-faced warblers), and abundant shrubs and downed logs and less canopy cover (yellow-eyed juncos). Although both species nested in close proximity within montane riparian forest, nest-site characteristics differed between the 2 species, especially at finer spatial scales. For example, most yellow-eyed juncos nested adjacent to grass (principally Muhlenbergia spp.), whereas red-faced warblers nested adjacent to a variety of plant species, including grass, bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum), white fir (Abies concolor), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Both red-faced warblers and yellow-eyed juncos avoided nesting in areas burned during a recent wildfire. In addition, nesting success was low for red-faced warblers (13%) and yellow-eyed juncos (19%) following the wildfire, suggesting an indirect negative effect of fire on breeding populations in the short-term. Montane riparian forest appears to provide important breeding habitat for red-faced warblers and yellow-eyed juncos. However, little research or conservation planning has been directed toward montane riparian forest in the region, even though this forest type is limited in its areal extent (<11% of high-elevation forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains) and increasingly threatened by disturbance. Results from our study can be used to facilitate the management and conservation of breeding populations of red-faced warblers and yellow-eyed juncos in high-elevation forests of the southwestern United States.

Chris Kirkpatrick and Courtney J. Conway "Importance of Montane Riparian Forest and Influence of Wildfire on Nest-Site Selection of Ground-Nesting Birds," Journal of Wildlife Management 74(4), 729-738, (1 May 2010).
Published: 1 May 2010

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Cardellina rubrifrons
ground-nesting birds
habitat associations
Junco phaeonotus
montane riparian forest
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