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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Distribution of Birds in the United States

There are several broad patterns in the ecological distribution of breeding birds in the United States. There is a generally increasing continuum of breeding bird species from the drier areas of the Southwest and West to the more moist forests of the Northeast (Peterson 1975). Regions dominated by desert vegetation have relatively simple avifaunas that contain a few prominent species. Regions with complex mixed forests contain many rather evenly distributed species, although much regional variation occurs along this gradient. In the Great Plains, the number of species increases from Texas to the Canadian border (Cook 1969, Peterson 1975). This latitudinal increase may reflect patterns of glaciation or a more heterogeneous landscape on the northern plains, but in general the avian community in grasslands is organized by the most obvious structural feature, grass height (Cody 1968).

Mountainous regions of the United States have relatively diverse avifaunas, largely because their considerable topographic relief compresses several different vegetation zones into a relatively small area, rendering them ecologically diverse (Cook 1969). Closely related habitats, or habitats with similar physical profiles or complexities, exhibit similar bird diversities (Peterson 1975).

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