Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Open-File Report 2015-1240
By: , and 

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Executive Summary

The U.S. Government created the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (Kofa NWR) in 1939 in response to a citizen campaign to improve desert bighorn sheep populations in Arizona. The Kofa NWR is mountainous and remote, and its management by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) keeps anthropogenic disturbance levels low. As such, Partners In Flight (PIF) listed the Kofa NWR as one of its Sonoran Desert portfolio sites in its Desert Bird Conservation Plan (McCreedy and others, 2009). Research presented here demonstrates that bird communities within a well-managed and remote Sonoran Desert portfolio site can nonetheless be negatively affected by human-caused stressors like fire and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) parasitism, which originate from beyond the Kofa NWR’s boundaries.

In chapter 1, we examine how avian productivity can be influenced by timing of nest initiation. We demonstrate that (1) late nesting dates are correlated with low winter precipitation levels, a condition expected to occur in greater frequency in coming decades due to climate change (Seager and others, 2007) and that (2) late nesting dates result in decreased productivity, due to higher rates of nest depredation and, in the case of an open-cup nesting species, higher rates of brood parasitism experienced later in the breeding season. The brood parasite, the Brown-headed Cowbird, appears to forage and roost on agricultural lands north of the Kofa NWR’s boundary. From that location, they commute to the refuge to parasitize other passerine bird nests. Drought and subsequent loss in primary production have been correlated with decreased productivity for birds that breed in arid habitats (Preston and Rotenberry, 2006; Chase and others, 2005; Johnson and others, 2002; Morrison and Bolger, 2002; Brown and Li, 1996; Anderson and Anderson, 1973), yet drought’s standing as a threat to bird populations has been underestimated in recent regional conservation planning efforts (McCreedy and others, 2009; Latta and others, 1999).

In chapter 2, we examine the effects of the King Valley fire on breeding and migrant birds within the Kofa NWR. This fire was caused by incendiary weapons testing within Yuma Proving Ground, south of the Kofa NWRboundary (Esque and others, 2013). We found large differences in spring migrant and breeding species abundance and richness between bird count stations within the 2005 King Valley fire zone and bird count stations immediately outside the fire perimeter. Habitat loss to fire, and the subsequent slow regeneration of a Sonoran Desert flora that is not well adapted to fire disturbance, is a recognized threat to bird populations (McCreedy and others, 2009; Latta, 1999), and of all Sonoran Desert wildlife, birds may be the most impacted by loss of perennial Sonoran Desert vegetation to fire (Esque and Schwalbe, 2002). We conclude that decreases in both breeding and migrant use of washes within burned areas will likely persist into the long term (>25 years) due to slow return rates of xeroriparian woodlands lost in the fire.

Suggested Citation

McCreedy, C., van Riper, C., III, Esque, T.C., and Darrah, A.J., 2015, Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015–1240, 34 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20151240.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

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Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Chapter 1—Drought-Caused Delay in Breeding and Lowered Nesting Success of Sonoran Desert Birds
  • Chapter 2—Avian Response to Fire at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in the Sonoran Desert
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Effects of drought and fire on bird communities of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2015-1240
DOI 10.3133/ofr20151240
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description iv, 34 p.
Country United States
State Arizona
Other Geospatial Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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