Bird-habitat associations and local-scale vegetation structure in lowland brushlands

Annie J. Hawkinson, Rebecca A. Montgomery, Charlotte L. Roy, Lindsey M. Shartell, David E Andersen, Thomas K. Stevens, Lori J. Knosalla, Lee E. Frelich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brushlands support a diverse suite of bird species, including species of conservation concern in the western Great Lakes region of central North America. Information on how to effectively manage lowland brushlands for birds and associations between breeding birds and local-scale vegetation structure and composition is lacking. We surveyed lowland brushlands from 2016–2018 in Minnesota, USA, to assess bird-habitat associations using avian point-count surveys and fixed-radius vegetation plots. We used Poisson regression models to assess the associations between breeding bird species richness, total abundance, and abundance of frequently detected species (using counts as an index for abundance) to woody stem density and height, patchiness of woody stem density, variation of woody stem height, and number of woody plant species. Sedge wrens (Cistothorus stellaris), the most abundant species, were negatively associated with multiple woody plant metrics and positively associated with patchiness. Common yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) were the second-most abundant species and associated with low-stature woody plants (<1 m based on average heights in study sites). Bird species richness, alder flycatchers (Empidonax alnorum), chestnut-sided warblers (Setophaga pensylvanica), swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana), veeries (Catharus fuscescens), and yellow warblers (Setophaga petechia) increased with woody vegetation height. Chestnut-sided warbler and Nashville warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla) abundances also increased with woody stem density. We suggest that managing lowland brushlands to promote diverse woody plant structure, including tall shrubs and areas with patchy, open herbaceous cover, by implementing temporally and spatially variable disturbance regimes, may benefit bird species that rely on lowland brushlands with a range of vegetation structure requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22568
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. The Journal of Wildlife Management published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of The Wildlife Society.


  • Minnesota
  • bird abundance
  • bird species richness
  • brushland
  • patchiness
  • stem density
  • stem height


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