In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, flood control has led to a drastic reduction in the area of forest habitat and altered the patchwork of forest cover types. Silvicultural management of the remaining fragmented forests has changed to reflect the altered hydrology of the forests, current economic conditions of the area, and demand for forest products. Because forest type and silvicultural management impact forest birds, differences in avian productivity within these forests directly impact bird conservation. To assist in conservation planning, we evaluated daily nest survival, nest predation rates, and brood parasitism rates of forest birds in relation to different forest cover types and silvicultural management strategies within this floodplain. Within bottomland hardwood forests, nest success of blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea, 13%), eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus, 28%), indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea, 18%), northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis, 22%), and yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus, 18%) did not differ from that within intensively managed cottonwood plantations. However, average daily survival of 542 open-cup nests of 19 bird species in bottomland hardwoods (0.9516 + 0.0028, -27% nest success) was greater than that of 543 nests of 18 species in cotlonwood plantations (0.9298 + 0.0035, -15% nest success). Differences in daily nest survival rates likely resulted from a combination of differences in the predator community--particularly fire ants (Solenopsis invicta)--and a marked difference in species composition of birds breeding within these 2 forest types. At least 39% of nests in bottomland hardwood forests and 65% of nests in cottonwood plantations were depredated. Rates of parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) were greater in managed cottonwoods (24%) than in bottomland hardwoods (9%). Nest success in planted cottonwood plantations for 18 species combined (-14%), and for yellow-breasted chat (Icteria vimns, 7%), eastern towhee (14%), indigo bunting (14%), and northern cardinal (17%) did not differ from nest success in cottonwood plantations that were coppiced from root sprouts following pulpwood harvest. Within bottomland hardwood forests, uneven-aged group-selection timber harvest reduced the combined daily nest survival of all species from 0.958 to 0.938, which reduced nest success by about 14%. Specifically, timber harvest reduced nest success of species that nest in the forest midstory and canopy, such as Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens)--from 32% before harvest to 14% after harvest. Conversely, those species that nest primarily in the shrubby understory--such as northern cardinal--were not affected by timber harvest and maintained an overall nest success of about 33%. Thus, birds nesting in the understory of bottomland hardwood forests are not adversely impacted by selective timber harvest, but there is a short-term reduction in nest success for birds that nest in the canopy and midstory.
Additional publication details
Nest survival of forest birds in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley