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Restoring North America's Birds

Restoring North America's Birds: Lessons from Landscape Ecology

Robert A. Askins
Illustrations by Julie Zickefoose
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Restoring North America's Birds
    Book Description:

    The decline of bird species in a wide range of North American habitats-forests, prairies, shrublands, mountain regions, marshes, and deserts-has inspired two decades of intense scientific study of bird ecology and conservation. But for professional scientists and amateur birders alike, interpreting the results of these diverse studies is often complex and bewildering. This accessible book pulls together recent research on bird species and habitats to show how basic ecological principles apply in seemingly different situations. Robert A. Askins provides an engaging introduction to bird ecology and concepts of landscape ecology, focusing on such intriguing species as Bachman's Warbler, Red Crossbill, Mountain Plover, and Marbled Murrelet.Understanding the ancient landscapes of North America and how humans have changed them, Askins says, is essential for devising plans to protect and restore bird populations. In addition to such obvious changes to the landscape as the clearing of forests and plowing of prairies, more subtle changes also dramatically affect birds. Species may disappear when we interrupt natural disturbances by suppressing wildfires or trapping out beaver, or when we disrupt habitat with roads and housing developments. Askins challenges some of the assumptions that underlie current conservation efforts and offers concrete recommendations, based on sound ecological principles, for protecting the rich natural diversity of North America's birds.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12711-9
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xv)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Grassland Birds of the East Coast: Pleistocene Parkland to Hay Meadow
    (pp. 1-25)

    Emily Dickinson’s surroundings, in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the middle of the nineteenth century, were strikingly different from the heavily wooded suburbs and mountainsides that dominate New England today. Her poems describe a world of open meadows and large vistas. The birds of her poems are birds of hayfields, gardens, and orchards. A modern poet evoking the New England countryside would more likely describe the songs of the Wood Thrush and other forest birds. Poetry, of course, is not necessarily a dependable source of information about nature; the larks of Dickinson’s poems were probably the Skylarks encountered in British poetry, not...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Another Quiet Decline: Birds of the Eastern Thickets
    (pp. 27-53)

    Although the Yellow-breasted Chat is classified as a warbler, it acts more like a thrasher or mockingbird, singing a loud, raucous song and emphatically scolding people who intrude on its territory. It usually slips through dense thickets unseen, but on June mornings it suddenly makes itself conspicuous, singing from a high tree or shrub and occasionally launching itself above the singing perch, hovering unsteadily with legs dangling as it sings. Its song is a disjointed series of sounds described by Alexander Wilson as a “great variety of odd and uncouth monosyllables.”¹ Unfortunately, this spectacle is increasingly difficult to observe in...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Great Plains: Birds of the Shifting Mosaic
    (pp. 55-73)

    To European settlers crossing the Great Plains in the nineteenth century, the prairie seemed monotonous, unchanging, and endless. There was a gradual gradient from the wet tallgrass prairies of Illinois and eastern Kansas to the dry shortgrass prairies of Montana and eastern Colorado, but the settlers might travel through the same general type of grassland for weeks. Within each prairie region, however, the grassland consisted of a subtle patchwork of different types of vegetation. This complex pattern of distinct patches of grasses and forbs was created by various disturbances—wildfires, water collection in low spots, intense grazing or vigorous wallowing...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Lost Birds of the Eastern Forest
    (pp. 75-97)

    Along with the bear, Old Ben, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker evokes the original wildness of the virgin bottomland forest of the Tallahatchie River in Faulkner’sGo Down, Moses.¹Faulkner describes the loss of this wildness as Old Ben is killed and the forest is reduced to a tame remnant, a sequence that, for different decades or centuries, describes the history of almost every part of eastern North America. Almost a hundred years beforeGo Down, Moseswas published, Henry Thoreau poignantly described the loss of wildness in Massachusetts²: between the early 1600s and 1855, wolves, black bears, wolverines, mountain lions, lynx,...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Deep-forest Birds and Hostile Edges
    (pp. 99-129)

    Although many ecologists and historians have underestimated the extent of open grassland and scrubland in the presettlement landscape of eastern North America, there is no question that dense, uninterrupted forest covered huge areas. Along the Appalachians, in the Ohio Valley, and even in parts of the coastal plain, a “sea of forest” stretched unbroken for hundreds of miles. These immense deciduous forests were home to a great diversity of specialized woodland birds. Many species of warblers, vireos, thrushes, and tanagers thrive only deep inside the forest, far from open habitats. Their populations tend to melt away in the suburban woods,...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Industrial Forestry and the Prospects for Northern Birds
    (pp. 131-153)

    In contrast with the eastern deciduous forest, great expanses of the northern boreal forest of North America remained intact throughout the history of European settlement. A few species of trees, most of them conifers (spruce, pine, fir, and larch) dominate this forest, which stretches southward from the tundra edge to the region along the U.S.-Canada border. On the other side of the Bering Strait, a strikingly similar forest stretches across Eurasia, from eastern Siberia to Scandinavia and Scotland. The Old World version of boreal forest has the same general types of trees (usually a dominant pine, a dominant spruce, an...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Birds of the Western Mountain Slopes
    (pp. 155-183)

    The coniferous forests of the western United States are more similar to the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska than to deciduous forests at the same latitude farther east. While much of the eastern forest was cleared for agriculture, both the western and boreal forests have been used primarily for timber production. Even though timber is sometimes harvested with massive clearcuts, these forests are generally managed to perpetuate commercially valuable forest, not to create farmland or suburbs.¹ Instead of the archipelagoes of isolated forest patches found in many parts of the East and Midwest, western mountains have interconnecting networks of...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Declining Birds of Southwestern Floodplains
    (pp. 185-207)

    After finding the Greater Roadrunners, Cactus Wrens, and Blackthroated Sparrows of the desert upland, birders visiting the Southwest usually concentrate their efforts in the narrow, green strips of woodland and shrub along rivers and creeks. Despite their arid setting, these floodplain or riparian woodlands have a rich diversity of birds.¹ Breeding bird censuses show that they have a density of songbirds as high as in any habitat in temperate North America.² The majority of southwestern bird species nest in floodplain woodlands, and many species are almost restricted to this habitat.³ For example, along the Verde River in Arizona, over 50...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and the Longleaf Pine Woodland
    (pp. 209-227)

    Before European settlement, forests of tall, straight longleaf pine covered much of the coastal plain from southeastern Virginia south to central Florida and west to East Texas. They grew on sandy, dry soil, interspersed with the hardwood forests growing in river valleys and in uplands with moist, well-drained loams.¹ In most of the Southeast, longleaf pines grew in an open woodland or savanna, with ancient pines scattered regularly across an expanse of low wiregrass or bluestem. The canopy of these savannas was pure longleaf pine or longleaf pine mixed with other fire-resistant trees, such as loblolly and shortleaf pines. The...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Landscape Ecology: The Key to Bird Conservation
    (pp. 229-245)

    In the late 1930s, James Tanner completed an exceptionally thorough study of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker for the National Audubon Society.¹ He traveled 45,000 miles, visiting 145 sites where there had been reports of the species or where there appeared to be appropriate habitat. He also completed an intensive study of the feeding behavior, habitat requirements, and social behavior of ivorybills in the Singer Tract in Louisiana, which held one of the largest remaining populations. As a result of his study, he was able to make specific recommendations for saving the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from extinction: he listed the key sites that...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 246-258)

    Much has changed in the two years since this book was first published. Research on the landscape ecology of birds has proceeded on many fronts, and ideas generated by this research have molded conservation policy more rapidly than most researchers would have predicted. Programs like Partners in Flight and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network have opened communication between researchers and land managers, making everyone more responsive to new ideas. Research has molded land management and land management has molded research in unprecedented and unexpected ways.

    As a member of the board of trustees of the Connecticut Chapter of the...

  15. Appendix I Scientific Names of Organisms Other Than Birds
    (pp. 259-268)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 269-282)
  17. References
    (pp. 283-318)
  18. Index
    (pp. 319-332)