The Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) is a locally distributed and relatively uncommon Neotropical migrant songbird that breeds in the bottomland forests of the southeastern United States and spends the nonbreeding season in the Caribbean Basin. Populations of Swainson's Warblers have declined during recent decades as bottomland forests have come under increasingly intensive management and large areas have been converted to other land uses. We examined the habitat around song perches used by male Swainson's Warblers at Big Hammock Wildlife Management Area, a managed bottomland forest along the Altamaha River in Tattnall County, Georgia. We quantified 20 features of habitat structure in areas occupied by Swainson's Warblers (occupied plots) and two sets of controls: unoccupied plots adjacent to occupied plots (adjacent control plots) and unoccupied plots throughout the management area (general control plots). Occupied plots and adjacent control plots both differed in structure from the general control plots. We detected no significant differences, however, in vegetation structure between occupied plots and adjacent control plots. General control plots tended to have a greater number of trees, greater basal area, and a complete canopy, whereas occupied and adjacent control plots had high densities of small stems, cane, herbaceous ground cover, and leaf litter; this latter pattern is typical of documented Swainson's Warbler breeding habitat. Lack of significant differences in vegetation structure may be due to great variation in habitat structure around song perches, small sample size, or scarcity of Swainson's Warblers. Future research should focus on quantifying habitat characteristics around nest sites, song perches, and feeding areas. Our results suggest that management of bottomland habitats by thinning forests and encouraging regeneration of canebrakes is needed for successful conservation of Swainson's Warblers.
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Habitat use by Swainson's Warblers in a managed bottomland forest