Bttomland hardwood forests were planted on agricultural fields in Mississippi and Louisiana using either predominantly Quercus species (oaks) or Populus deltoides (eastern cottonwood). We assessed avian colonization of these reforested sites between 2 and 10 years after planting. Rapid vertical growth of cottonwoods (circa 2 - 3 m / yr) resulted in sites with forest structure that supported greater species richness of breeding birds, increased Shannon diversity indices, and supported greater territory densities than on sites planted with slower-growing oak species. Grassland birds (Spiza americana [Dickcissel], and Sturnella magna [Eastern Meadowlark]) were indicative of species breeding on oak-dominated reforestation # 10 years old. Agelaius phoeniceus (Red-winged Blackbird) and Colinus virginianus (Northern Bobwhite) characterized cottonwood reforestation # 4 years old, whereas 14 species of shrub-scrub birds (e.g., Passerina cyanea [Indigo Bunting]) and early-successional forest birds (e.g., Vireo gilvus [Warbling Vireo]) typified cottonwood reforestation 5 to 9 years after planting. Rates of daily nest survival did not differ between reforestation strategies. Nest parasitism increased markedly in older cottonwood stands, but was overwhelmed by predation as a cause of nest failure. Based on Partners in Flight prioritization scores and territory densities, the value of cottonwood reforestation for avian conservation was significantly greater than that of oak reforestation during their first 10 years. Because of benefits conferred on breeding birds, we recommend reforestation of bottomland hardwoods include a high proportion of fast-growing, early successional species such as cottonwood.
Additional publication details
Avian response to bottomland hardwood reforestation: the first 10 years