Short-term responses of birds to prescribed fire in fire-suppressed forests of California

Authors

  • Karen E. Bagne,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA
    2. USDA Forest Service, Sierra Nevada Research Center, 2081 E. Sierra Avenue, Fresno, CA 93710, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Albuquerque, NM 87102.
    • Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.
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  • Kathryn L. Purcell

    1. USDA Forest Service, Sierra Nevada Research Center, 2081 E. Sierra Avenue, Fresno, CA 93710, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Robert Steidl.

  • This article is a US Government work and, as such, is in the public domain in the United States of America.

Abstract

Prescribed fire is one tool for restoring fire-suppressed forests, but application of fire during spring coincides with breeding and arrival of migrant birds. We examined effects of low-severity prescribed fires on counts of birds in a managed forest in the Sierra Nevada of California immediately, 1 year, and 3–6 years after fire was applied in spring. Of 26 species analyzed, counts of 3 species increased after fire (Pacific-slope flycatcher [Empidonax difficilis], brown creeper [Certhia americana], and American robin [Turdus migratorius]), and 6 species decreased after fire (Anna's hummingbird [Calypte anna], Hutton's vireo [Vireo huttoni], warbling vireo [Vireo gilvus], golden-crowned kinglet [Regulus satrapa], Nashville warbler [Vermivora ruficapilla], hermit warbler [Dendroica occidentalis]). Black-throated gray warbler (Dendroica nigrescens) increased in the first year following fire but decreased 3–6 years after fire. When grouped into guilds, habitat association and foraging guild best explained responses to fire, with the greatest changes occurring for oak-associated species (negative), riparian-associated species (positive), aerial foragers (positive), and bark foragers (positive). Lastly, when we compared our counts to those collected during the 1910s, changes were consistent with those predicted from fire suppression and species' affinity for burned forests, suggesting that results from contemporary fire studies should be interpreted within an ecological context that includes effects of fire suppression. We found that low-severity prescribed fires applied in spring served to drive the bird community towards pre-suppression conditions. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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