Managing Your Land with Minimal Impact to Birds

By: Amy Grotta, OSU Extension Service Forester and Nicole Strong, MWM Coordinator

The Oregon Zoo recently hosted a workshop on managing land to minimize impact to birds. A huge audience was in attendance, and the myriad speakers provided lots of practical information on the state of bird species in the Willamette Valley and practices that can help species in decline. While much of the information was intended for urban forest or open space managers, much of it could easily translate to small woodland ownerships. Here we present some of the key “take-home” messages and suggestions for management with birds in mind.

Lesson One: Timing is Everything
Many species of birds have experienced declining numbers over the past several decades. Birds are most sensitive during the breeding season, which for most birds in the Willamette Valley occurs between mid-April and late July. If a nesting area is disturbed during this time, adult birds may abandon their nests, leaving eggs or hatchlings vulnerable to predators.

Learn what birds are present on your property during breeding season, and where (riparian areas, open thickets, meadows, mature forests, etc.) they occur. Then, consider whether your management activities will impact the bird or its nesting habitat. If so, time management activities to occur before or after breeding season.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give up working on your land at all between April until July. Most birds will fledge (leave the nest) within a couple weeks. If you find a nest with eggs or babies, you might consider holding off on your management for the few weeks until those birds can fly off.

willow flycatcherHere is an example of how you can incorporate this line of thinking into a management practice nearly all landowners face: Himalayan blackberry control. Willow flycatchers, a species in decline at the state level, frequently use blackberry thickets to nest. The willow flycatcher is a late nester – its breeding season is June 1 through August 31.  From the standpoint of effective blackberry control, late summer is an ideal time to spray or mow; however, cutting or spraying then could directly impact the willow flycatcher. One suggestion would be to wait until September or later to treat the blackberries; however, it would be still be important to ensure that there were alternative breeding habitats available on the property.

Additionally, since you are removing habitat, you want to think about what species you promote in place of blackberries. As their name suggests, willow flycatchers prefer willows, or other native thicket-forming plants. It would be important to get these plants established in the blackberries’ place, and perhaps leave some small patches of undisturbed blackberry while the native plants are growing in, and then treat them in later years.

Lesson Two: Protecting Nests

Most bird species in the Willamette Valley build a new nest each year, so if you encounter an empty nest during the off-season, it is okay to remove it. The nest size, location and construction material can help to identify the species of bird that built it.

Lesson Three: Think Low to the Ground: Shrubs, Fields and Meadows
For some people, when managing forests for wildlife habitat is mentioned, what comes to mind are old-growth reserves set aside for spotted owls, marbled murrelets, or other high-profile endangered species. However, it is important to remember that there are dozens of other declining bird species that use open fields, meadows, and nest in shrubs in young forests, or under trees on private lands. Let’s work to protect them too, before it’s too late; this is in your best interest also. If you manage your land for multi-purposes voluntarily now, you are less likely to feel pressure from more regulations in the future.

For more information:
Oregon Conservation Strategy
Identifying priority species and their habitats – publication from OFRI,
Audubon Society of Portland – offers classes and local birding resources: – bird lists from around the PNW
Cornell Lab of Ornithology All about Birds – Interactive website with bird calls, ranges, habitat and resources.

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