Breeding bird response to season of burn in an upland hardwood forest


Upland  hardwood  forest  managers  are increasingly  burning  during  the growing-season  in hopes of improving wildlife habitat  and  attaining  or  accelerating  other  restoration  goals, highlighting  the  need  for  research  ad- dressing how season of burning affects wildlife, including breeding birds. We used 1-ha strip transects in nine units before (2011) and after (2013–2016) treatments to experimentally assess how breeding birds respond to early growing-season (26 April 2013; GSB) and dormant season (5 March 2014; DSB) burns, and controls (C). Burn  effects on  forest  structure  were  minor  and  transitory,  regardless  of  burn  season.  Burns  did not  affect overstory or midstory tree basal area or density; shrub cover did not significantly differ among treatments, but within  GSB  and  DSB  it  decreased  for  1–2 years  post-burn.  A  trend of  reduced  leaf  litter  depth  immediately following both burn treatments was apparent, and recovery was rapid. Percent canopy cover decreased slightly in GSB within four years post-burn. Total bird species richness and density did not differ among treatments or years, and no treatment × year interaction effects were detected. A treatment effect was detected for one of the 10  species tested;  Red-bellied  woodpecker  density  was  greater  in  GSB  than  C  in  2013  and  2015.  No treat- ment × year interaction effect was detected for any tested species. Density of birds within the tree-, cavity-, and shrub  and  midstory-nesting  guilds  were  not  detectably  affected  by either  burn  treatment,  but  ground-nester density  was  lower  in  GSB  and  DSB  than  C  in 2014.  Our  results  indicate  that  single,  low-intensity  burns,  re- gardless of burn season, are not an effective tool in creating suitable forest structure for disturbance-dependent breeding bird species, or changing breeding bird community composition. In the short-term, substantial forest overstory reduction by timber harvests or high-severity burns will likely be required to improve forest conditions for disturbance-dependent species, and to increase species richness and abundance of breeding birds.


  • Citation: Greenberg, Cathryn H.; Keyser, Tara L.; McNab, W. Henry; Scott, Patrick. 2019. Breeding bird response to season of burn in an upland hardwood forest. Forest Ecology and Management. 449: 117442-.
  • Keywords: Breeding birds, Dormant-season burn, Growing-season burn, Prescribed fire, Season of burn, Upland hardwood forest
  • Posted Date: September 13, 2019
  • Modified Date: September 1, 2020
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