Habitat selection of riparian birds at restoration sites along the Trinity River, California

Rockwell, S.M.; Stephens, J.L.

Restoration Ecology 26(4): 767-777


ISSN/ISBN: 1061-2971
DOI: 10.1111/rec.12624
Accession: 070867666

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Riparian habitats in the western United States are imperiled, yet they support the highest bird diversity in arid regions, making them a conservation priority. Riparian restoration efforts can be enhanced by information on species response to variation in habitat features. We examined the habitat selection of four riparian birds known as management indicators at restoration and reference sites along the Trinity River, California. We compared vegetation structure and composition at nest sites, territories, and random points to quantify used versus available habitat from 2012 to 2015. Vegetation in focal species' territories differed between site types, and from available habitat, indicating nonrandom site choice. Birds selected aspects of more structurally complex habitats, such as greater canopy cover, canopy height, and tree species richness. Yellow-breasted Chats preferred greater shrub cover, and Yellow Warblers preferred greater cover by non-native Himalayan blackberry. Territory preferences on restoration sites were often a subset of those on reference sites. One exception was canopy height, which was taller on restoration site territories than random points for all species, suggesting that birds preferentially used patches of remnant habitat. Few variables were significant in nest site selection. Restoration plantings along the Trinity River were only 3-10years old during this study, and have not developed many of the characteristics of mature riparian habitat preferred by birds, but may improve in habitat value over time. Understanding habitat selection is especially important in recently human-modified environments, where indirect cues used to assess habitat quality may become disassociated from actual habitat quality, potentially creating ecological traps.