Historically, fire was one of the most widespread natural disturbances in the western United States. More recently, however, significant anthropogenic activities, especially fire suppression and silvicultural practices, have altered fire regimes; as a result, landscapes and associated communities have changed as well. Herein, we review current knowledge of how fire and post-fire salvaging practices affect avian communities in conifer-dominated forests of the western United States. Specifically, we contrast avian communities in (1) burned vs. unburned forest, and (2) unsalvaged vs. salvage-logged burns. We also examine how variation in burn characteristics (e.g., severity, age, size) and salvage logging can alter avian communities in burns. Of the 41 avian species observed in three or more studies comparing early post-fire and adjacent unburned forests, 22% are consistently more abundant in burned forests, 34% are usually more abundant in unburned forests, and 44% are equally abundant in burned and unburned forests or have varied responses. In general, woodpeckers and aerial foragers are more abundant in burned forest, whereas most foliage-gleaning species are more abundant in unburned forests. Bird species that are frequently observed in stand-replacement burns are less common in understory burns; similarly, species commonly observed in unburned forests often decrease in abundance with increasing burn severity. Granivores and species common in open-canopy forests exhibit less consistency among studies. For all species, responses to fire may be influenced by a number of factors including burn severity, fire size and shape, proximity to unburned forests, pre- and post-fire cover types, and time since fire. In addition, post-fire management can alter species' responses to burns. Most cavity-nesting species do not use severely salvaged burns, whereas some cavity-nesters persist in partially salvaged burns. Early post-fire specialists, in particular, appear to prefer unsalvaged burns. We discuss several alternatives to severe salvage-logging that will help provide habitat for cavity nesters. We provide an overview of critical research questions and design considerations crucial for evaluating the effects of prescribed fire and other anthropogenic disturbances, such as forest fragmentation. Management of native avifaunas may be most successful if natural disturbance regimes, including fire, are permitted to occur when possible. Natural fires could be augmented with practices, such as prescribed fire (including high-severity fire), that mimic inherent disturbance regimes.
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Effects of fire and post-fire salvage logging on avian communities in conifer-dominated forests of the western United States