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Reforestation of bottomland hardwood sites in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley has markedly increased in recent years, primarily due to financial incentive programs such as the Wetland Reserve Program, Partners for Wildlife Program, and state and private conservation programs. An avian conservation plan for the Mississippi Alluvial Valley proposes returning a substantial area of cropland to forested wetlands. Understanding how birds colonize reforested sites is important to assess the effectiveness of avian conservation. We evaluated establishment of woody species and assessed bird colonization on 89 reforested sites. These reforested sites were primarily planted with heavy-seeded oaks (Quercus spp.) and pecans (Carya illinoensis). Natural invasion of light-seeded species was expected to diversify these forests for wildlife and sustainable timber harvest. Planted tree species averaged 397 + 36 stems/ha-1, whereas naturally invading trees averaged 1675 + 241 stems/ha. However, naturally invading trees were shorter than planted trees and most natural invasion occurred <100 m from an existing forested edge. Even so, planted trees were relatively slow to develop vertical structure, especially when compared with tree species planted and managed for pulpwood production. Slow development of vertical structure resulted in grassland bird species, particularly dickcissel (Spiza americana) and red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), being the dominant avian colonizers for the first 7 years post-planting. High priority bird species (as defined by Partners in Flight), such as prothonotary warbler (Protonotaria citrea) and wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), were not frequently detected until stands were 15 years old. Canonical correspondence analysis revealed tree height had the greatest influence on the bird communities colonizing reforested sites. Because colonization by forest birds is dependent on tree height, we recommend inclusion of at least one fast-growing tree species (e.g., cottonwood [Populus deltoides], or sycamore [Platanus occidentalis]) in the planting stock to encourage rapid avian colonization.
Additional Publication Details
Bottomland hardwood establishment and avian colonization of reforested sites in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley