Maine Audubon, foresters work to protect critical bird habitat

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FALMOUTH — The populations of many forest birds in Maine have been steadily declining as threats to their existence continue to grow, including habitat fragmentation, encroaching development, air pollution and climate change.

That’s why Maine Audubon has created the Forestry for Maine Birds program, which is specifically designed to integrate bird conservation methods with forest management and planning, said Jeremy Cluchey, Audubon spokesman.

The program “works to improve habitat for priority forest birds and a variety of other wildlife species (by) engaging woodland owners in forest stewardship,” he said. “Ultimately, the program seeks to enhance the value and enjoyment of Maine woodlands for many generations to come.”

Cluchey said with its Forestry for Maine Birds, Audubon works closely with The Forest Stewards Guild, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Forest Service to create opportunities for “bird identification, a primer on bird habitat, and an assessment tool for helping evaluate forests with an eye to their role as habitat for birds.”

He said that Audubon has three key audiences in mind for its forestry and birds programming.

They are “landowners (who) have the potential to create high-quality bird habitat on their woodlots; foresters (who) have the expertise to create management plans that consider what habitat birds need; and loggers (who) implement forest management plans and can improve habitat for birds in how they operate equipment and manage work sites.”

Cluchey said ensuring that birds have continued places to nest and breed is important because “Maine’s forests (act as) baby bird factories. For birds, long days, abundant food, and excellent habitat makes the Maine woods an ideal place to raise baby birds.”

For this reason, he said, “Every spring, the Maine woods come alive with color and song. Bright warblers return from points far south, stealthy thrushes hide in dense vegetation and sturdy woodpeckers and hardy chickadees that stay in Maine all winter look for nesting cavities in dead or rotting trees.”

By summer, he added, “the Maine woods fill with more than 90 different species of birds, many are here for just three short months, to do one thing; make babies, lots and lots of babies.”

With so many different species calling the Maine woods home, Cluchey said it only makes sense to “work with those responsible for managing forests and to equip them with the knowledge and techniques they need to manage them with birds in mind.”

And, “With 96 percent of Maine’s land privately owned, landowners can play a critical role in helping birds,” he added.

Cluchey said the Forestry for Maine Birds program was adapted from work originally done in Vermont by the Vermont Department of Parks and Recreation and Vermont Audubon. It gets its funding from various organizations, including the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

If there’s any message Cluchey wants people to take to heart, it’s that “landowners of any size woodlot can make a difference.”

“The more structure your forest has, the better. Lots of standing dead wood and rotting logs and branches on the forest floor, and lots of dense shrubs and young trees mixed in with a variety of larger, older trees are all good things,” he said.

“The more variety of structure in the woods, the more birds that will use it.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

More than 90 different species of birds call the Maine woods home, which is why it’s so important to protect forestry habitat, according to Maine Audubon. This black-backed woodpecker is just one of those species.

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