Marshes in the Gulf Coast Chenier Plain provide important winter habitats for many species of birds. Many of these marshes are managed intensively through a combination of fall/winter burning and construction of impoundments to improve wintering waterfowl habitat, reduce wetland loss, and create emergent wetlands. Little information is available on effects of this management on wintering birds, particularly passerines. We conducted experimental burns in impounded and unimpounded marshes on Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge in southwest Louisiana and recorded species composition and abundance of birds during the 1996 and 1997 winters. We found that burning and impoundment influenced vegetation structure, which in turn influenced bird abundance and species composition. Blackbirds (Icteridae) preferred recently burned plots. Sparrows (Emberizidae) and wrens (Troglodytidae) avoided recently burned plots but recolonized these plots after one year of vegetation recovery. Sparrows and wrens present in burned plots during the first winter following burning generally were observed in scattered patches of unburned vegetation. Suitability of Chenier Plain marshes as winter habitat for several bird species was reduced during the winter in which burning was conducted, particularly if a high proportion of the plot was burned. We recommend that patchy burns be used, at both the landscape level and within specific burned areas, to achieve management objectives and still provide suitable winter habitat for non-target species. Although many groups of birds depend on Chenier Plain marshes for winter habitat, these groups differ in their specific habitat requirements. We recommend that a diverse wetland complex (e.g., impoundments managed for waterfowl foraging habitat interpersed with those managed for passerine winter cover) be maintained.
Additional Publication Details
Effects of winter burning and structural marsh management on vegetation and winter bird abundance in the Gulf Coast Chenier Plain, USA