Housing developments in rural New England: effects on forest birds

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In rural New England, forest fragmentation is caused by housing developments in forested areas. To evaluate the effects of these changes on forest birds, we compared bird assemblages between forests with different housing densities in western Massachusetts. Species occurrences and relative abundances were determined from systematic point count surveys and mist-netting at three plots in forest of low housing density (0–0.05 houses/ha) and of moderate housing density (0.60–6.70 houses/ha) in 1993 and 1994. Among guilds, Neotropical migrants and forest-interior species had significantly lower abundances in forests of moderate housing density. Abundances of ground/shrub nesting birds as a group, and of individual species such as veery (Catharus fuscescens), ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) and wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), were greater in forest of low housing density, but blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata) were more abundant in forest of moderate housing density. Although the abundances of ground/shrub nesting birds were positively related to ground cover, this vegetation structure did not differ between forest types. Avian and mammalian nest predators may be responsible for the trends in bird abundance. Avian nest predators may recognize forest of moderate housing density as edge habitat, and this rural development may also support relatively high densities of mammalian nest predators. These trends suggest that birds of New England's relatively extensive forests may be subject to greater fragmentation effects than generally thought, as a result of increasing rural housing development within forests.







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