• Scott F. Pearson,

    1. College of Forest Resources, P.O. Box 352100, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195 USA
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    • Present address: Washington Department of Natural Resources, Lands and Resources Division, Box 47016, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia, Washington 98504-7016 USA. E-mail:

  • David A. Manuwal

    1. College of Forest Resources, P.O. Box 352100, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195 USA
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We examined the relative importance of riparian vs. upland habitats to breeding birds by comparing species abundance, richness, and similarity of bird communities in managed Douglas-fir forests in western Washington State, USA. We also examined whether forested buffer strips along second- and third-order streams effectively maintain the pre-logging riparian breeding bird community by comparing species abundance, richness, and turnover among three treatments: (1) unharvested controls; (2) sites that were clear-cut, leaving a narrow (∼14 m) forested buffer on both sides of the stream; and (3) sites that were clear-cut, leaving a wide (∼31 m) forested buffer along both sides of the stream.

Deciduous trees, berry-producing shrubs, and other deciduous shrubs less common in adjacent upland forest characterized streamside zones. Despite different vegetation features, riparian and upland habitats did not differ in any measures of bird species richness and composition. No species or species group was more abundant in the upland. Neotropical migrants, resident species, and species associated with deciduous trees and shrubs in forested habitats were more abundant in riparian habitats than in adjacent uplands. Total bird abundance and abundance of four species (American Robin [Turdus migratorius], Pacific-slope Flycatcher [Empidonax difficilis], Black-throated Gray Warbler [Dendroica nigrescens], and Winter Wren [Troglodytes troglodytes]) were higher in riparian habitats. Abundance of these riparian associates was correlated with percent cover of berry-producing shrubs and the number of deciduous trees in the canopy.

We found that the number of breeding bird species on sites with narrow buffers increased from slightly fewer than controls before harvest to an average of 10 more species than controls after harvest, a change reflected in an average 20% increase in species turnover on narrow-buffer sites relative to controls. Total bird abundance did not differ between treatments and controls. Resident species, those species associated with shrubs in forested habitats and conifer trees, declined on both buffer treatments. Species associated with upland and riparian forests (Black-throated Gray Warbler, Golden-crowned Kinglet [Regulus satrapa], and Brown Creeper [Certhia americana]) decreased in abundance on riparian buffer treatments relative to controls, whereas species associated with open, shrubby habitats (Dark-eyed Junco [Junco hyemalis], Cedar Waxwing [Bombycilla cedrorum], and Song Sparrow [Melospiza melodia]) increased in abundance on one or both riparian buffer treatments.

High species turnover on narrow-buffer treatments indicated that buffers <14 m on each side of the stream did not maintain the pre-logging bird community. There was little difference in species turnover or species richness between the wide-buffer treatment and the control, indicating that a 30-m buffer on both sides of second-order and third-order streams maintains most of the pre-logging bird community in the first two years postharvest. The Black-throated Gray Warbler was the only riparian associate to decline on both the narrow- and wide-buffer treatments; its abundance was positively correlated with buffer width, and a buffer ≥45 m wide on each side of second- and third-order streams was needed to support populations at densities found on unharvested controls. To maintain the entire breeding bird community associated with forested riparian habitats in the coastal Northwest, we recommend a minimum buffer of 45 m along both sides of second- and third-order streams. Habitat features such as deciduous trees (Alnus rubra and Acer macrophyllum) and berry-producing shrubs (especially Rubus spectabilis) appear to be important and should be maintained within forested riparian buffer strips.

This study documents short-term effects of riparian treatments on the breeding bird community, which may take several years to respond to habitat manipulations. Thus, we recommend continued monitoring to assess long-term effects of buffer width reduction.