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Sustaining Forests

About this Research Area

Participating Units

Theme Science Topics

  • Methods to conserve and enhance forest resources
    • Timber productivity and wood quality
    • Special forest products
    • Wildlife and fish
    • Biodiversity and structural and functional complexity of forests
    • Recreation, experience of natural places
    • Feedstocks for bioenergy
  • Forest resource monitoring and assessment
  • Globalization impacts
  • Science to support the National Fire and Fuels Strategy
  • Understanding the ecological roles of natural disturbance

Featured Publication

Stoleson, Scott H.  2013. Condition varies with habitat choice in postbreeding forest birds. The Auk, 130(3):417-428.

Mature-forest birds benefit by shifting to early-successional habitat after breeding

[photo:] Hooded Warbler. Photo by Nathan Weyandt, used with permission.Research Issue

Populations of many migratory birds that require large tracts of mature forest to nest are declining across the eastern states, despite the fact that our forests are maturing and in many states are stable or increasing in area. Birds provide vital ecological functions in forests, including pest control and seed dispersal, so continued declines in bird populations may negatively affect forest health and regeneration. Reversing these declines requires an understanding of the habitat needs of forest birds throughout their life cycle. Much research has been conducted such that we now have a good understanding of what various species need on their nesting grounds and on their wintering grounds. However, the 1-2 month period between nesting and when birds leave for their wintering grounds has been virtually ignored.

Our Research

A Northern Research Station scientist examined habitat choice in mature forest birds in the post-breeding season to determine (1) whether most bird species remain in mature forests until they migrate, or instead shift to early-successional habitats as has been recorded for species like Wood Thrush; and (2) whether occupying early-successional habitat after breeding provides any benefits or penalties for birds relative to individuals that remain in mature forests. This study used mist-netting to capture birds within mature forest and within regenerating timber harvests; each bird caught was banded, measured, examined for parasites and other physiological traits, and then released.

Expected Outcomes

By understanding the habitat needs of forest birds, we can provide managers with the necessary knowledge and tools to manage their lands to provide essential habitats and better sustain birds on managed lands.

Research Results

This study demonstrated that most, but not all, mature forest birds shift to early-successional habitats once they finish breeding in mid-summer. Further, individuals that moved to younger habitats were found to be in better physiological condition than those that remained in the mature forest. So, the health and survival of these forest birds may depend, in part, on having an adequate amount of early successional habitat within large tracts of mature forest.  

Stoleson, Scott H.  2013. Condition varies with habitat choice in postbreeding forest birds. The Auk, 130(3):417-428.

Research Participants

    Principal Investigator

  • Scott H. Stoleson, Research Wildlife Biologist, US Forest Service, Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • USDA-Forest Service- Allegheny National Forest
  • Kane Hardwood
  • Forest Investment Associates
Last Modified: May 12, 2015