Deciduous vegetation along streams and rivers provides breeding habitat to more bird species than any other plant community in the West, yet many riparian areas are heavily grazed by cattle and surrounded by increasingly developed landscapes. The combination of cattle grazing and landscape alteration (habitat loss and fragmentation) are thought to be critical factors affecting the richness and composition of breeding bird communities. Here, we examine the influence of land use and cattle grazing on deciduous riparian bird communities across seven riparian systems in five western states: Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and California. These riparian systems are embedded in landscapes ranging from nearly pristine to almost completely agricultural. We conducted landscape analysis at two spatial scales: local landscapes (all land within 500 m of each survey location) and regional landscapes (all land within 5 km of each survey location). Despite the large differences among riparian systems, we found a number of consistent effects of landscape change and grazing. Of the 87 species with at least 15 detections on two or more rivers, 44 species were less common in grazed sites, in heavily settled or agricultural landscapes, or in areas with little deciduous riparian habitat. The Veery (Catharus fuscescens), Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis), Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), and American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) were all less common under at least three of these conditions. In contrast, 33 species were significantly more common in one or more of these conditions. Sites surrounded by greater deciduous habitat had higher overall avian abundance and 22 species had significantly higher individual abundances in areas with more deciduous habitat. Yet, areas with more agriculture at the regional scale also had higher total avian abundance, due in large part to greater abundance of European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), and Black-billed Magpie (Pica pica), all species that use both agricultural and riparian areas. Grazing effects varied considerably among riparian systems, but avian abundance and richness were significantly lower at grazed survey locations. Fifteen species were significantly less abundant in grazed sites while only five species were more abundant therein. Management should focus on (1) preserving and enlarging deciduous habitats, (2) reducing cattle grazing in deciduous habitats, and (3) protecting the few relatively pristine landscapes surrounding large deciduous riparian areas in the West.
Additional publication details
Effects of anthropogenic fragmentation and livestock grazing on western riparian bird communities