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CONCEPTUAL ECOLOGICAL MODEL
FOR MANAGEMENT OF
BREEDING SHRUBLAND BIRDS
IN THE MID-ATLANTIC REGION


Technical Report NPS/NER/NRR--2006/043
Bruce Peterjohn
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Laurel, MD 20708

June 2006

U.S. Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Northeast Region
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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Introduction

While grassland birds have become the focus of increased conservation activities, the status of birds occupying shrubland habitats has received relatively little attention (Hunter et al. 2001). Yet, in eastern North America, shrubland birds exhibited consistent population declines during the past 40 years, based on data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (Pardieck and Sauer 2001). These population declines primarily reflect large-scale changes in land use patterns during the previous century (Lorimer 2001). Large areas of marginal farmland were abandoned and underwent secondary succession during the first half of the twentieth century, producing abundant successional habitats favored by shrubland birds. As these habitats matured, combined with strict fire-suppression policies (Hunter et al. 2001), shrublands succeeded into mature forests, and shrubland bird communities were replaced by woodland birds (Irland 1982; Askins 1993). For example, while nearly 29% of New England forests were classified as sapling stage in 1950, only 8% remained at that stage in the 1980s (Askins 1993). The trend towards forest maturation and loss of shrubland habitats continues, yet concerted conservation activities have not been directed to benefit declining shrubland bird populations.

The National Park Service (NPS) could contribute to shrubland bird conservation in the Mid- Atlantic Region. The NPS maintains a number of historic sites and former battlefields managed for their cultural significance but also support wildlife populations. Many of these “cultural parks” maintain open landscapes, recreating land use patterns existing at the times of the historical events. While these open landscapes are frequently managed grasslands, some parks also support successional habitats that could be managed to benefit shrubland birds.

In 2005, the NPS initiated a project exploring the potential of “cultural parks” to support significant breeding grassland and shrubland bird communities. This project involved parks within three NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program (I&M) networks, Mid-Atlantic, National Capital, and Eastern Rivers and Mountains. Five parks were selected for the initial focus of this study, all of which maintain open landscapes for interpreting historic events. Most parks were selected because they contain the most extensive grassland habitats within their networks, although some also support shrubby successional habitats. The five parks included in this study are Antietam National Battlefield, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Gettysburg National Battlefield, Manassas National Battlefield, and Monocacy National Battlefield.

This conceptual ecological model is one product of this project. The information presented below allows NPS network coordinators to understand which factors should be considered when making decisions concerning shrubland management within their networks. This model provides park resource managers with information on shrubland ecology in the Mid-Atlantic Region, the ecological requirements of shrubland birds likely to occur in their parks, and management issues influencing whether significant breeding populations can occupy shrublands created and maintained in the parks. Resource managers can then make informed decisions concerning their ability to create and maintain shrubland habitats. The emphasis of this conceptual model is restricted to management of breeding shrubland birds. Additional species occur during migration and winter, and habitat requirements of shrubland birds during nonbreeding seasons may differ from those described for the breeding season.

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