Elevated concerns

The rusty blackbird and Bicknell’s thrush, two species of migratory songbird whose populations are declining, have begun to overlap their previously distinct habitat ranges as a result of land management practices and other factors.


Amber Roth:
I’d say there are two aspects that are challenging for this research. One is the remoteness of where we’re working. The terrain is not easy to navigate. It’s steep, it’s rocky, there aren’t a lot of roads. It’s not easy to work out there. The other part of it is the birds themselves are very challenging. They can be secretive.

They’re not always in the easiest places to find them. They’re in these dense spruce-fir stands. You can imagine stems that are literally inches apart from one another. It’s very difficult to maneuver through that. These are challenging birds to work with.

One of the objectives of the research is to understand how these birds are selecting habitat. Why are they in site A, but not in site B? What is it about site A that makes it more attractive?

In order to understand that, we need to put some sort of tags on the birds in order to track them, to understand where they’re going in order to compare it to places that are available to them but that they’re not using.

Kaitlyn Wilson:
The general goal of this project is to look at habitat selection by Bicknell’s Thrush in commercial forests in Maine. Traditionally, this species occurs above 800 meters in the state. But with, of course, the changes to the climate that are ongoing, their habitat is shrinking and is going to continue to shrink as time goes on.

These lower elevation, commercially‑managed forests, are going to become increasingly important to the species. Our hope is to find out what the birds are using when they’re here, so that we can make recommendations to forest managers. This is so that they can continue to harvest, but do so sustainably with the birds in mind.

We also hope to contribute to the Best Management Practices plans that exist for the state, to hope to improve upon those.

Luke Douglas:
The Rusty Blackbird has been declining for a long while now. It’s believed to have declined by over 85 percent since the 1970s. Part of what we’re doing out here is trying to figure out why that decline is occurring.

We’re searching for nests. We’re taking vegetation measurements around those nests, and also at random paired points. We can compare what they’re using versus what is available around the areas that they’re using.

When the nestlings reach a certain age, we’re capturing them and the adults. We’re putting little VHF radio transmitters on them. They’re basically little backpacks that give out a signal.

We can track that signal with antennas to find the spots that they were using. We’re also taking vegetation measurements at those spots. That allows us to compare what the birds are using versus what’s available around.

We’re also zooming back out. At the stand level, the different treatments of different forest stands, what kind of treatments they like and their survival is promoted in, and where they’re not doing so great or they’re not using those other areas.

Amber Roth:
For me, what would be the most rewarding outcome would be if we can come up with a win‑win scenario for landowners, where they can continue to harvest the trees that they need to harvest in order to continue to make income. At the same time, they can have high quality habitat for these birds, and they are able to persist on these landscapes.

If we can continue to create the forest products that we want as a society, but also create habitat for these species that are in need of some help right now, that’s the big win‑win. It’s looking to meet the needs of society and the needs of wildlife, and continue to have these birds on the landscape.

It’s also to continue to have the wood products that we want for building materials and toilet paper [laughs] , and things we like every day. [laughs] That, to me, is the best outcome.