Bird-friendly recommendations for bottomland forests in the Carolinas: birds and people on common ground.
Bottomland hardwood forests have suffered tremendous losses in the United States. Yet they support some of the densest breeding populations of imperiled migratory song birds in the eastern US, providing nesting habitat for 49 species, 32 of which share some Conservation Status. Traditional management for bottomland hardwood forests in the southeast has tended to rely on one of two strategies large scale clearcuts >50 acres, or no-cutting at all. As a conservation organization, Audubon and others have encouraged landowners, land trusts and conservation groups to seek the protection of bottomland hardwood forests and prescribe a "no-cut" policy to allow the forest to mature to an old growth climax community. Bottomland hardwood forests provide habitat for 140-200 species that use different niches in the forest structure. There are priority birds that require small scale openings (Swainson's warblers), some that can tolerate thinning within the canopy (Prothonotary warblers), and some that cannot tolerate any disturbance (Red-eyed vireo). Audubon South Carolina set out to review available research in order to identify tolerance thresholds that could be incorporated into a forest management plan or conservation easement that would allow an alternative management regime, other than cut it all or cut nothing. A set of bird-friendly best management practices were identified to address the needs of the disturbance-dependent birds while not compromising the needs of the disturbance-tolerant species, and that allow some modest harvesting revenue. When these management practices are embedded at a landscape-scale where there are large tracts of nodisturbance, then the habitat needs of the entire suite of species can be addressed. Initial demonstration sites at Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Jackson, SC successfully attracted the birds of interest. One year after three small clear cuts (1, 3, 5 acres) were logged within a 90-acre stand, the habitat now has shrubby thickets and sightings of Swainson's Warblers have been confirmed.