Enhance Songbird Habitat on your Forest

Don’t you just love looking out into your forest and catching a songbird flit about the shrubs catching insects and sharing his sweet song? Songbirds are just one of the many benefits of having your own forest. Some of you might even be expert birders just from having a pair of binoculars near your living room window. But, how do you keep those birds coming back year after year?

We’ll give you some tips on how to maintain the key habitat characteristics for the many songbirds that may be visiting your property and even some recommendations on ways to increase the types of birds that visit.

Broadleaf trees provide essential habitat for many songbird species. Leaving just 10 percent of a stand of timber with hardwoods will greatly increase the number and variety of bird species present. You can choose to spread out the hardwood trees evenly across every acre, or you can leave them in islands or clumps to provide habitat for songbirds while minimizing impact on growing conifers. The best hardwood trees to leave to maximize the benefit to wildlife species include:

  • Bigleaf maple
  • Cherry
  • Dogwood
  • Madrone
  • Oregon white oak
  • Pacific crabapple.
  • Willows

In central and eastern Oregon, leave quaking aspen, black cottonwood and willows.

Deciduous shrubs provide a source of food, cover, and nesting space for songbirds. Designating clumps of shrubs pre-harvest is a good way to maintain shrubs on the landscape while decreasing competition with your planted trees (i.e., shrubs are concentrated in one area). If you have mature forest, create gaps in the canopy of ¼ -1 acre in size to allow enough sunlight for your shrubs to develop and create seeds and berries. You can also plant them as a hedgerow along a forest or road edge. Deciduous shrubs that are especially beneficial to songbirds include:

  • Cascara
  • Elderberry
  • Hazel
  • Indian plum
  • Ocean spray
  • Red flowering currant
  • Red-osier dogwood
  • Snowberry
  • Serviceberry
  • Thimbleberry
  • Salmonberry.

In central and eastern Oregon, also consider leaving bitterbrush, manzanita, bunchgrasses and Woods’ rose.

Did you know that the majority of our terrestrial wildlife species use dead standing and down wood as either a primary or secondary component of their habitat requirements in the Pacific Northwest? Snags, or standing dead trees, are used for perching, as a source of food, and as nesting habitat.

When snags or live trees fall over they become dead and down woody material. Down wood in the form of root wads, bark, limbs, and logs play a critical function in the forest ecosystem. This material is important in nutrient cycling, natural regeneration, and habitat for many wildlife species including arthropods (a main food source for songbirds). Down wood is used for feeding sites, nest cavities within and under the wood, food sources, and hiding and thermal cover.

Consider these strategies for creating and maintaining dead wood in your forest.

  • Retain existing snags where safe to do so.
  • Lave “extra” wildlife trees for future snag recruitment (the big wonky looking trees that are of low economic value).
  • Create snags by girdling or toping in areas they are lacking.
  • Keep large-diameter down logs distributed throughout mature stands and harvest units instead of piling them into slash piles or moving them to landings.
  • Contribute some large-diameter logs, and avoid mechanical damage and disturbance to existing down logs during commercial thinning operations. This will increase the amount of down wood as the stand ages.
  • Look for opportunities to use un-merchantable portions of large-diameter logs as down wood.

Encourage a diversity of age classes of your live conifer trees. Live, standing conifers provide food, cover, and nesting structure for songbirds. If you are planning a clearcut harvest over 25 acres, a minimum of two standing live trees or snags acre of harvest must be left behind, but retaining trees above the minimum provides even more habitat options. These legacy trees encourage age diversity, and will eventually become snags or down wood. Legacy trees can be scattered throughout a harvest unit /or left in clumps (> 15 trees). When selecting trees, opt for trees retained from prior entries and deformed trees.

Riparian Buffers are important places to encourage songbird habitat. These are great places to house the variety of shrubs, hardwoods, and conifer trees that songbirds use for resources. Not to mention, it’s not far from the water to stop off for a drink or to find something to eat. If possible maintain or even increase your stream buffers to encourage riparian habitats.

Some songbird species rely on grasses and non-woody flowering plants. Finding a weed-free, bird friendly seed mix can be a great resources to maximize habitat. You can seed this mix in landings, cutbanks, edges, dirt roads, and if appropriate areas of a new harvest that won’t compete with your newly planted trees.

Early seral, or young regenerating forests, are in decline across the Pacific Northwest. Estimates suggest as much as a 50 percent decline in early seral forests since the 19th and early 20th centuries (Swanson et al. 2014). Currently, early seral forests exist primarily on private lands, due to the emphasis on late-successional and old-growth management goals on federal forestlands.

As small private forest owners you have an opportunity to help create and maintain good habitat for early seral associated songbirds by prolonging the period of time a forest is in this early seral stage. This may conflict with wood production goals, but for some landowners delaying crown closure is an option. You can delay crown closer by completing an early pre-commercial thinning or planting at a wider spacing. Just be sure to meet the minimum stocking requirements of the Oregon Forest Practices Rules after harvest.

Taking advantage of any of these steps will surely increase the music on your land. Enjoy the birds!

Was this page helpful?

Related Content from OSU Extension

Ask an Expert

Have a question? Ask an Expert!

Ask an Expert is a way for you to get answers from the Oregon State University Extension Service. We have experts in family and health, community development, food and agriculture, coastal issues, forestry, programs for young people, and gardening.

Ask us a question