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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Bird/Cover-Type Matrices


We have attempted to summarize bird use of the major forest types, grasslands, and deserts of the United States. We have indicated bird use of wetland and other open habitats commonly encountered within forests, and conversely, in wooded habitats within deserts and grasslands, but have not emphasized coastal habitats. This publication is primarily intended to serve as a reference for forest and rangeland managers.

Information provided in the following matrices was compiled from many sources. The 20 habitat matrices for the eastern and western forest types are based upon the forest cover type groups in "Forest cover types of the United States and Canada," F. H. Eyre, editor, Society of American Foresters, Washington, D.C., 1980. The habitat matrices presented for the Great Plains are based upon regions as described in "Land resource regions and major land resource areas of the United States," Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Handbook 296, Washington, D.C., 1981.

Nonforest habitat types within these broad forest cover types and Plains regions, and their use by birds in both the breeding and nonbreeding seasons, were developed from the following:

"Management of southern forests for nongame birds," R. M. DeGraaf, technical coordinator, General Technical Report SE-14, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Asheville, NC, 1978

"Nongame bird habitat management in the coniferous forests of the western United States," R. M. DeGraaf, technical coordinator, General Technical Report PNW-64, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Portland, OR, 1978

"Management of north-central and northeastern forests for nongame birds," R. M. DeGraaf, technical coordinator, General Technical Report NC-51, North Central Forest Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, St. Paul, MN, 1979

"Management of western forests and grasslands for nongame birds," R. M. DeGraaf, technical coordinator, General Technical Report INT-86, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ogden, UT, 1980

"New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution," R. M. DeGraaf and D. D. Rudis, General Technical Report NE-108, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Broomall, PA, 1986

"Guide to bird habitats of the Ozark Plateau," K. E. Evans and R. A. Kirkman, General Technical Report NC-68, North Central Forest Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, St. Paul, MN, 1981

"Bird-habitat relationships on southeastern forest lands," P. B. Hamel, H. E. LeGrand, Jr., M. R. Lennartz, and S. A. Gauthreaux, Jr., General Technical Report SE-22, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Asheville, NC, 1982

"Birds of the Great Plains," P. A. Johnsgard, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NB, 1979

"Wildlife habitats in managed forests - the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington," J. W. Thomas, technical editor, Agriculture Handbook 553, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C., 1979

"California wildlife and their habitats; western Sierra Nevada," J. Verner and A. S. Boss, technical coordinators, General Technical Report PSW-37, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Berkeley, CA, 1980; and many unpublished reports provided by USDA Forest Service regional offices and colleagues.

Eastern Forest Cover Type Groups - (Table 1)

Eastern White-Red-Jack Pine. Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), red pine (Pinus resinosa), or jack pine (Pinus banksiana) composes most of the stocking. The northeastern and Lake States pine types all occur as essentially pure stands, usually on lighter soils. Eastern white pine occurs from the Canadian Maritime Provinces, across the Lake States to Manitoba, and down the Appalachian Mountains to Georgia. It is shade-tolerant and also occurs as a scattered tree in other types, and on many soils. Red pine is most extensive in the Lake States and southern Ontario, and also extends east to New England, Quebec, and the Maritime Provinces, where it usually occurs on small outwash areas, rocky slopes, or hilltops. It is shade-intolerant, and occurs in even-age stands. Jack pine is mainly found in the Lake States; it characteristically originates after fire and is a short-lived, intolerant pioneer on dry, sandy soils.

Red Spruce-Balsam Fir. Red spruce (Picea rubens) or balsam fir (Abies balsamea) composes most of the stocking. These species frequently occur together from the Maritimes and adjacent Quebec, northern New England, New York, and the Appalachians. Either may be pure or compose a majority of the stocking; paper birch (Betula papyrifera), aspen (Populus tremuloides and P. grandidentata), red maple (Acer rubrum), eastern white pine, and northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) are common associates. Red spruce is long-lived and shade-tolerant; disturbance creates conditions favorable for establishment of balsam fir.

Longleaf Pine-Slash Pine. Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) or slash pine (P. elliottii) composes a majority of the stocking. This type occurs on the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plains from Louisiana to South Carolina, on a range of sites from sandy ridges to poorly drained flatwoods. Excluding fire allows slash pine to become established, and hardwoods and shrubs commonly proliferate. Where longleaf pine stands are treated with prescribed fire, an open understory results.

Loblolly Pine-Shortleaf Pine. Loblolly (Pinus taeda) and shortleaf (P. echinata) pines together compose the majority of the stocking. Loblolly pine predominates except on drier sites; the type occurs from Delaware south along the Atlantic coastal plain and Piedmont to Florida and west along the Gulf coastal plain to east Texas. Typically found on moist sites, it spreads to drier sites if fire is controlled. The type is succeeded by upland oaks.

Oak-Pine. Upland oaks and pines (usually loblolly or shortleaf) each comprise 25 percent of the stocking. Oak and pine types generally occur from east Texas to Georgia on upland sites on the Gulf coastal plain and Piedmont, and north in smaller areas through the Appalachians to include table mountain pine (P. pungens)-oak, Virginia pine (P. virginiana)-oak, and pitch pine (P. resinosa)-oak types.

Oak-Hickory. Upland oaks and hickories (Carya spp.) compose most of the stocking, and pines constitute less than 25 percent of the stocking. Oak-hickory forests occur across a wide geographic range from Texas, Missouri, and Iowa to southern New England, with many oak and other hardwood species involved under various physiographic conditions.

Oak-Gum-Cypress. In these bottomland forests of the lower Mississippi River Valley and those of its major tributaries from the Ohio River south, tupelo (Nyssa), blackgum (N. sylvatica), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), oak (Quercus), or bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), singly or in combination, compose most of the stocking; pines contribute less than 25 percent of the stocking.

Elm-Ash-Cottonwood. Elm (Ulmus), ash (Fraxinus), cottonwood (Populus deltoides), or red maple compose most of the stocking in these forests. Common associates in river bottoms (especially the Missouri River drainage) are sycamore (Platanus) and willow (Salix). On uplands, including those in Lake States, western New York, and southern New England, common associates are red maple (Acer rubrum) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia).

Northern Hardwoods. Sugar (Acer saccharum) or red maple, American beech, or yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), singly or in combination, compose most of the stocking. The northern hardwood type group varies geographically in its composition. It extends from the Maritimes through Wisconsin and south through the central Appalachians. Sugar maple is characteristic of the type group. Beech is absent in much of its western extent and on wetter sites in the East, where red maple and yellow birch also become common. Balsam fir and red spruce are common associates in the Northeast, aspen is common throughout; northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white ash (Fraxinus americana), eastern white pine, paper birch, and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are commonly associated in the central and southern parts of the range, where the type is often called mixed woods.

Aspen-Birch. Quaking and bigtooth aspens or paper birch compose a majority of the stocking. Aspen and paper birch are transcontinental in distribution. Both are pioneer types that establish after fire and clearcutting. Aspen is unique in that almost all stands regenerate from root suckers. The type is short-lived and is succeeded on dry sites by red pine, red maple, or oaks; on intermediate sites by white pine; on moist fertile sites by northern hardwoods; and on the wettest sites by balsam fir. Paper birch is succeeded by spruce-fir in the northern parts of its range and by northern hardwoods and eastern hemlock on well-drained, fertile sites elsewhere.

Western Forest Cover Type Groups - (Table 4)

Douglas-fir. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) composes most of the stocking. Common associates are western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), true firs (Abies), redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), and larch (Larix). The type group predominates in the Pacific Northwest, but also occurs (decreasing southward) throughout the Rocky Mountains south to northern New Mexico.

Hemlock-Sitka Spruce. Western hemlock and/or Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) compose most of the stocking. Common associates include Douglas-fir, silver fir (Abies amabilis), and western redcedar. The type comprises the coastal forests of Washington and Oregon.

Redwood. Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) composes most of the stocking. The type is restricted to the California fog belt, extending from southernmost Oregon south along the Pacific Coast to the Santa Lucia Mountains. The type extends inland to the reaches of coastal fogs. Common associates are Douglas-fir, grand fir (Abies grandis), and tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus).

Ponderosa Pine. Ponderosa pine composes most of the stocking. Common associates in the western part of the range (California, Oregon) include Jeffrey (P. jeffreyi), and sugar (P. lambertiana) pines; to the north, Douglas-fir and incense-cedar (Libocedrus decurrens); to the east, limber (P. flexilis), Arizona (P. ponderosa var. arizonica), and Chihuahua (P. leiophylla var. chihuahuana) pines; and throughout, white fir (Abies concolor). The type is generally distributed to the west, north, and east of the Great Basin and the deserts of the Southwest.

Western White Pine-Larch. Western white pine (Pinus monticola) composes most of the stocking. The type attains its best development in northern Idaho and northwestern Montana. Common associates include western redcedar, larch, white fir, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine (P. contorta), and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). Such admixtures produce the "mixed conifer" type, as it is known locally. Western larch (Larix occidentalis) comprises a plurality of the stocking in some areas between the Columbia River in eastern Washington and the west slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. Common associates are Douglas-fir, grand fir, western redcedar, and western white pine.

Lodgepole Pine. Lodgepole pine composes most of the stocking; the mid-elevation type occurs to 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, to 11,500 feet in California, and to 6,000 feet in Oregon and Washington. Best development is on moist, sandy, or gravelly loam. Common associates are subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), western white pine, Engelmann spruce, aspen, and larch.

Fir-Spruce. The true firs, Engelmann spruce, or Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens) compose most of the stocking. Common associates are lodgepole pine and, at high elevation, mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana).

Aspen-Hardwoods. Aspen (Populus tremuloides) or red alder (Alnus rubra) compose a majority of the stocking. The aspen type is the most common and extensive hardwood type in the western United States. It occurs primarily at middle elevations on a variety of sites in the Rocky Mountain cordillera, where it is usually succeeded by interior Douglas-fir. Aspen is usually first to dominate burns and other disturbed areas, where it produces even-aged stands. Where conifer seed sources are absent, aspen may exist as a virtual climax, where it vegetatively reproduces repeatedly, developing into all-aged stands.

All western aspen communities have an herbaceous understory, commonly forbs, but sometimes grasses and sedges. In the northern portion of the type range in the West, willows, common bearberry, and buffaloberry are common understory shrubs. Farther south, snowberry, chokecherry, and western serviceberry are more common.

Red alder is essentially coastal and the most important hardwood of the Pacific Northwest; best growth is on moist, rich, loamy bottomlands.

Chaparral. Chaparral consists of heavily branched, dwarfed trees or shrubs, commonly evergreens, whose canopy at maturity covers at least 50 percent of the ground. Common constituent plants include oaks (Quercus), Mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus), silktassel (Garrya), ceanothus (Ceanothus), manzanita (Arctostaphylos), and chamise (Adlenostoma).

Pinyon-Juniper. Pinyon pines (primarily P. edulis, P cembroides, P monophylla) and junipers (primarily Juniperus osteosperma, J. deppeana, and J. monosperma) compose most of the stocking. This type is widely distributed throughout the semiarid West, usually on dry, shallow, rocky soils of mesas, benches, and canyon walls.

Eastern Open, Wetland, Plains, Deserts, and Other Nonforest Habitats - (Table 2)

Field, Glade, Orchard. Primarily grass, hayfields, abandoned agricultural land, and fruit orchards with grassy ground cover.

Pasture, Wet or Sedge Meadow. Agricultural lands that are too wet, steep, or rocky for crops; meadows dominated by grasses or sedges (Carex spp.) with soils that are saturated or seasonally flooded.

Fresh Marsh, Pond. Palustrine and lacustrine wetlands, permanently flooded, containing emergents such as cattails (Typha), bullrushes (Scirpus), rushes (Juncus), and floating-leaved plants: spatterdock (Nuphar) and water lily (Nymphaea).

Wooded Swamp, Bog, Shrub Swamp. Palustrine, forested wetlands, either needle-leaved evergreen or broad-leaved deciduous; dominant plants are Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), black spruce (Picea mariana), or red maple. Wooded swamps are seasonally or permanently flooded; bogs are permanently flooded.

Lake, Stream, River. Stratified lacustrine wetlands; permanently flowing watercourses of any width.

Sand Pine, Scrub Oak. Southeastern and southern woodlands on droughty, infertile, coarse-textured or sandy soils that support any of the scrub oaks (Q. laevis, Q. incana, Q. marilandica, or Q. stellata var. margaretta) or sand pine (Pinus clausa).

Pocosins. Bay-swamp, and pond pine (Pinus serotina) woodlands with boggy soils in which broadleaf evergreens predominate: black gum (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora), persea (Persea barbonia), magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), gordonia (Gordonia lasianthus) and associates, of pond pine, Atlantic white-cedar.

Everglades, Mangroves. Palustrine wetlands in southern Florida that are semi-permanently flooded, dominated by saw grass (Cladium jamaicense); estuarine, intertidal wetlands dominated by mangrove (Rhizophora).

Alpine Tundra, Krummholtz. Elevated slopes above timberline characterized by low, shrubby, slow-growing woody plants and a ground cover of boreal lichens, sedges, and grasses; the transition zone from subalpine forest to alpine tundra characterized by dwarfed, wind-sheared trees.

Great Plains Habitats - (Table 3)

Gulf Prairies and Marshes. Moderate to tall dense open grasslands dominated by seacoast bluestem (Andropogon littoralis) and coastal sacahuista (Spartina spartinae).

East Texas Prairies, Cross Timbers, Pineywoods, and Post Oak Savanna. Open grassy savanna to dense brushland occurring in north-central Texas; pine-hardwood forest and grazing lands of east Texas; midgrass prairie dominated by little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius) and shin oak (Quercus mohriana).

South Texas Shrub-Grassland. Vegetation ranges from desert grass-shrub vegetation in west Texas to mixed oak savanna in the eastern Edwards Plateau region to open grassland on the Rio Grande plain.

Southern Plains. Open to moderately dense short grasslands occurring from southeastern Colorado and central Oklahoma south through eastern New Mexico and Texas panhandle. Natural vegetation is characterized by grama (Bouteloua) and buffalo grass (Buchloe).

Central Plains. Grasslands ranging from short grasses in the West to tall grasses in the East. Includes the region from southeastern Wyoming and northeastern Colorado east through Indiana.

Northern Plains. Plains region from north-central Montana and northwestern Minnesota south to southeastern Wyoming and northwestern lowa. Area supports grassland vegetation dominated by western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii) and needlegrass (Stipa) in the West and by little bluestem in the East.

Wetland and Riparian Habitats. All Great Plains wetland and riparian habitats, including marshes, ponds, lakes, streams, stock ponds, and woodlands associated with wetlands.

Shelterbelts and Woodlots. Planted bands of trees that serve as windbreaks to protect fields or farmsteads; other wooded areas surrounded by agricultural lands.

Pine-Oak, Brushy Woodland, Badlands-Juniper. Includes dry woodlands of pines and oaks with or without a brushy understory. Badlands-juniper region is largely devoid of vegetation but may have scattered junipers on suitable sites.

Southwestern and Western Nonforested Habitats - (Table 5)

Relict Conifer Forest, Madrean Evergreen Woodland. Warm-temperate forests and woodlands in the Southwest. Relict conifer forests consist of small populations of cypress (Cupressus) and closed-cone pines, bishop pine (Pinus muricata), and knobcone pine (P. attenuata), restricted to canyons and suitable slopes along drainages. Madrean evergreen woodland is composed primarily of evergreen oaks but includes madrean pines.

Aspen. Mid-elevation sites in the Great Basin consisting of pure or nearly pure stands of quaking aspen.

Great Basin Shrubsteppe. Open to dense stands of shrubs and low trees, including big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), saltbush (Atriplex confertifolia), greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), or creosote bush (Larrea divaricata).

Sonoran Desert Scrub. Open to dense vegetation of shrubs, low trees, and succulents dominated by paloverde (Cercidium microphyllum), pricklypear (Opuntia spp.), and giant saguaro (Cereus giganteus).

Chihuahuan Desert Scrub. Open stands of creosote bush and large succulents (Ferocactus pringlei, Echinocactus platyaconthus) in southern New Mexico and southwest Texas.

Mohave Desert Scrub. Located between the Great Basin desert scrub and the Sonoran desert scrub, it is intermediate between them, sharing plant species of both but containing the endemic arboreal leaf succulent, Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia).

Desert Riparian Deciduous Woodland, Marsh. Woodlands, especially of cottonwoods, that occur where desert streams provide sufficient moisture for a narrow band of trees and shrubs along the margins.

Annual Grasslands, Farms. Grasslands dominated by wild oat (Avena spp.), ripgut brome (Bromus rigidus), soft chess (Bromus mollis), bur clover (Medicago hispida), and filaree (Erodium spp.) with less than 5 percent woody cover.

River, Riparian Woodland, Subalpine Marsh. Occurs at elevations where stream conditions provide sufficient permanent moisture for emergent plants, or for a narrow band of deciduous trees and shrubs; at low elevation characterized by cottonwood and sycamore, at mid-elevation by white alder (Alnus rhombifolia) and bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and at high elevation by willow.

Mountain and Alpine Meadows. Sedges (Carex) and grasslike plants (Heleocharis, Scirpus) above treeline.


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