An investigation of the breeding-bird community within the Fort Lee Army Installation

B. D. Watts, The Center for Conservation Biology


Recent concern for the status of North American bird populations has resulted in an escalation of monitoring and management efforts. Much of this effort has been focused on declining species that migrate between breeding areas in North America and wintering areas in Latin America and the Caribbean. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) controls over 10 million hectares of land within the United States making it the third largest land holder in the federal government. Because of the high concentration of military installations within the mid-Atlantic region, DOD lands may represent the most promising opportunity to manage lands for populations of declining species. Through its partnership with the Partners in Flight initiative, DOD has committed to integrate neotropical migratory bird management efforts into existing natural resource management programs that are consistent with the military mission. This project was initiated to determine the status, distribution, and habitat associations of breeding birds on the Fort Lee Army installation so that they may be incorporated into existing resource management plans. Breeding bird communities were sampled during the summers of 1997 and 1998 within a network of 52 habitat patches located on the Fort Lee Army installation. Patches were selected to represent the dominant habitat types found within the installation including urban, early successional, pine-dominated forest, mixed forest, and hardwood-dominated forest. A total of 86 species were detected during the study period. Species observed were categorized as residents (species that remain in the local area throughout the year), temperate migrants (those species that migrate between breeding and wintering grounds within North American latitudes), or neotropical migrants (those species that migrate between breeding grounds in the temperate latitudes of North America and wintering grounds in Central and South America and the Caribbean). These three species groups accounted for 32.6%, 22.1 %, and 45.3% of the species detected and 41.5%, 20.4%, and 38.1% of the individuals observed respectively. Observations of all three groups were dominated by a relatively small number of abundant species. Habitats sampled were not equal in terms of the numbers and types of breeding birds supported. In general, forested patches supported more species and higher densities of birds. Bird communities within urban patches were dominated by resident species and to a lesser extent by temperate migrants. Many of the residents detected within urban patches were non-native species that are typically associated with human-dominated landscapes. Bird communities within early successional patches were dominated by temperate migrants with relatively equal contributions by residents and neotropical migrants. Forest bird communities were dominated by resident and neotropical migrants. Both bird density and diversity were influenced by forest composition. Forest patches with large amounts of hardwood supported the highest densities of birds. In comparison to the other two species groups, neotropical migrants exhibited the most dramatic response to habitat type. Density of neotropical migrants varied widely across the installation and was highest within hardwood-dominated forests surrounding headwater streams.