The frequency of wild and prescribed fires in montane forests of the southwestern United States has increased after a century of fire suppression and subsequent fuels accumulation. To assess the effects of recent fires (median time since fire = 6 yr) on the montane forest bird community, we surveyed birds in 8 Sky Island mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, USA, and examined how the distribution (i.e., presence-absence) of 65 species and relative abundance of 16 species correlated with evidence of severe and less severe fire at >1,500 survey points. We detected associations between fire and bird presence-absence for 17% of the 65 species analyzed and between fire and bird relative abundance for 25% of the 16 species analyzed. Most species (73%) were positively associated with burned areas and displayed stronger associations (i.e., more extreme odds ratios) with survey points that had evidence of severe as opposed to less severe fire. Positive associations with severe fire were strong (>3 to 1 odds) for western wood-pewee (Contopus sordidulus) and house wren (Troglodytes aedon), and negative associations with severe fire were strong for warbling vireo (Vireo gilvus) and red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis). Although recent fires appear to have had a positive effect on the distribution and relative abundance of several montane forest bird species in the region, these species are not the open-woodland birds that we would have expected to have benefited from fire based on previous research. Nevertheless, our results confirm associations between fire and bird presence-absence and relative abundance reported previously for 7 species of birds. Our results also provide new information for Grace's warbler (Dendroica graciae) and greater pewee (C. pertinax), 2 species for which fire data were formerly lacking. Managers can use these data to make and test predictions about the effects of future fires, both severe and less severe, on montane forest birds in the southwestern United States.
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Distribution and relative abundance of forest birds in relation to burn severity in southeastern Arizona