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Avian biology and collection of baseline population data was a major part of the first decade (1951-1961) of field research at the Savannah River Site (SRS). Baseline inventories involving organisms and land-use types were part of the mission in the early contracts between the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) and the University of Georgia prior to the establishment of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) as a National Environmental Research Park Laboratory. About 27% of the SREL publications during this first decade dealt with birds. Since that time, research on the SRS landscape has expanded and broadened with less than 10% of the publications dealing with birds. SRS changed also from an agriculturally dominated area with ca. 40% open areas (fields, crops, pastures) to a timber-managed area with ca. 80% forests, 12% open areas, and 2% open water impoundments. Baseline breeding bird populations of the SRS in the 1950s were typical for the region with avian species richness and density increasing with the age and succession of the vegetation (0-26 species and densities of 0-741 pairs/km2 for the habitats surveyed). During the first decade at the SRS, the resident game bird population of Northern Bobwhites (Colinus virginianus) increased and the Mourning Dove (Zenaida rnacroura) population, a migratory upland game bird, remained stable. Current avian research efforts, as well as new opportunities to reexamine the breeding bird populations and the landscape of SRS, will provide a better understanding of the potential causes of declines of neotropical migratory birds, declines of resident and migratory game birds, and how habitat influences invasions and extinctions of breeding birds in the region. Emphasis for future research and monitoring should be on neotropical migratory bird populations in decline (Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus; Eastern Wood-Pewee, Contopus virens; Wood Thrush, Hylocichla mustelina; Prairie Warbler, Dendroica discolor; and Painted Bunting, Passerina ciris), resident species in decline (e.g., Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus), certain species groups (e.g., waterfowl and wading birds), important habitat, and recent invasions and extinctions of breeding species. Old growth forested wetlands should be monitored because of the large number of neotropical migratory birds that depend on this habitat in the southeastern United States. A variety of survey techniques will be needed to determine population trends: line transects, call or song playbacks, roadside point surveys (call counts for game birds), aerial surveys, and presence or absence of species within stratified areas of SRS. The SRS provides opportunity for avian research at the landscape level with the potential to solve problems important to the survival of many bird populations as well as to increase our knowledge on how to manage and conserve our avian natural resources for the future.
Additional Publication Details
Early avian research at the Savannah River Site, South Carolina: historical highlights and possibilities for the future