Marsh managers along the Gulf Coast Chenier Plain frequently use winter burns to alter marsh vegetation and improve habitat quality for wintering waterfowl. However, effects of these burns on marsh avifauna are not well documented. We recorded abundances of breeding bird species and vegetation structure in burned and unburned control marshes during one breeding season before (1996) and two breeding seasons after (1997, 1998) experimental winter burns. We used non-metric multidimensional scaling analysis to assess the extent and direction of changes in bird community compositions of burned and unburned control marshes and to investigate the influence of vegetation structure on bird community composition. Overall, we found that Seaside Sparrows (Emberizidae: Ammodramus maritimus [Wilson]) and Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles (Icteridae: Agelaius phoeniceus [L.] and Quiscalus major Vieillot, respectively) comprised > 85% of observed birds. In burned marshes during the first breeding season following experimental burns (1997), icterid abundance increased while Seaside Sparrow abundance decreased relative to pre-burn (1996) conditions. This pattern was reversed during the second breeding season post-burn. No obvious patterns of change in avian abundance were detected in unburned control marshes over the 3-year period. Qualitative changes in breeding bird community composition were related to effects of winter burning on percent cover of dead vegetation and Spartina patens (Aiton) Muhl.
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Composition of breeding bird communities in Gulf Coast Chenier Plain marshes: Effects of winter burning