Songbirds and Woodpeckers

A chickadee sits on a branch
Songbirds and woodpeckers like this mountain chickadee, comprise the majority of bird species in Yellowstone National Park.

NPS

 

Songbirds and woodpeckers, or passerine and near passerine species, comprise the majority of bird species in Yellowstone National Park. They are monitored through the willow–bird study, the breeding bird survey, and the forest burn survey.

Songbirds and Willows

Scientists are studying how the growth of willows in Yellowstone’s northern range might be affecting songbirds that use this habitat. Willows and other woody vegetation have been highly suppressed in Yellowstone’s northern range since the early 1900s. The loss and low stature of willows has been attributed to several factors including elk herbivory, reduced beaver populations, consumption by fire, and/ or climate change. Since 1997–1998, however, park biologists have observed that some willow stands in the northern range are expanding in height. Willow stands are one of a few deciduous wetland habitats in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Bird diversity is considerably higher in wetland habitat types than in adjacent grasslands, shrublands, and upland coniferous forests.

Several Yellowstone bird species only breed in willow communities including Wilson’s warbler (Cardellina pusilla), willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii), and gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis). Willow growth has increased in some parts of the park’s northern range, for reasons still being studied. An increase in willow growth may support re-colonization by these and other bird species.

Monitoring of willow–songbird communities in Yellowstone began in 2005. Using data collected through monitoring, scientists will compare the presence and abundance of breeding songbirds across the range of willow growth conditions found throughout Yellowstone’s northern range. Over time, the study will be able to track changes in bird species composition as willow stands continue to change in structure.

Surveys of Burned Forests

Birds are among the first returning vertebrates to a fire-affected area. Birds that nest in cavities of trees depend on forest fires to provide their habitat—and different species depend on different effects of forest fires. For example, black-backed (Picoides arcticus), American three-toed (P. dorsalis), and hairy (P. villosus) woodpeckers use trees that burned in low to moderately severe fires, two to four years after the fire. Northern flickers (Colaptes auratus) move into severely burned areas three years after a fire. Standing dead trees left behind after a fire attract bark and wood-boring beetles—primary prey for woodpeckers. Nest cavities created by woodpeckers are used later by chickadees, nuthatches, and bluebirds.

Because fire size, frequency, and intensity is expected to increase with climate change, scientists are studying how the different bird species use different types of post-burn forests and they are developing monitoring methods for the future.

 
Bald eagle standing over a fish that it's eating.

Bald Eagle

Bald eagles can be seen along Yellowstone's many rivers and lakes.

An osprey comes in for a landing on a nest, where its mate tends the nest.

Osprey

Osprey summer in Yellowstone, fishing and raising young.

A peregrine falcon perched on a branch.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcons are some of the fastest birds.

A pair of white pelicans floating on water.

Colonial Nesting Birds

Colonial nesting birds—pelicans, gulls, and cormorants—primarily nest on the Molly Islands.

A loon swimming on a lake.

Common Loon

Loons in Yellowstone are some of the southern most breeding populations.

A pair of swans swimming on a lake.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans are the largest wild waterfowl in North America.

A small, gray bird perched on a rock along a stream holding an insect in its beak.

American Dipper

Also known as the water ouzel, these birds dive into water for aquatic insects.

Profile of a raven's head and chest

Raven

Ravens are smart birds, able to put together cause and effect.

A sandhill crane walking through a marshy landscape.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes nest in Yellowstone during the summer.

A yellow-breasted bird with black markings calls out as it stands on a stick

Birds

About 150 species build their nests and fledge their young in Yellowstone.

An eared grebe near Mammoth Hot Springs

Sound Library

Immerse yourself in the aural splendor of Yellowstone.

 

Resources

Baril, L.M., A.J. Hansen, R. Renkin, and R. Lawrence. 2011. Songbird response to increased willow (Salix spp.) growth in Yellowstone’s northern range. Ecological Applications 21:2283– 2296.

Saab, V., W. Block, R. Russell, J. Lehmkuhl, L. Bate, and R. White. 2007. Birds and burns of the interior West: descriptions, habitats, and management in western forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-712. Portland, OR: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Last updated: July 17, 2018

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

307-344-7381

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