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Songbird Community Composition and Nesting Success in Grazed and Ungrazed Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands

Christopher B. Goguen and Nancy E. Mathews
The Journal of Wildlife Management
Vol. 62, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 474-484
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
DOI: 10.2307/3802321
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3802321
Page Count: 11
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Songbird Community Composition and Nesting Success in Grazed and Ungrazed Pinyon-Juniper Woodlands
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Abstract

Livestock grazing is a dominant land use of pinyon-juniper habitats in the western United States, yet the effects of grazing on breeding bird communities in this habitat have been poorly studied. We compared habitat structure, songbird abundance, and nesting productivity within pinyon-juniper woodlands on an actively grazed site and a site experiencing long-term relief from livestock grazing in northeastern New Mexico. From 1992 to 1995, we performed vegetation sampling, conducted songbird point counts, and located and monitored nests on 8 35-ha study plots. Four of these plots experienced moderate cattle grazing and 4 were ungrazed since 1973. We found no differences in habitat or vegetation features between grazed and ungrazed plots. Bird communities were similar, with only 1 of the 11 species we tested more abundant on the ungrazed treatment (western scrub-jay; Aphelocoma californicus). We detected no differences in nesting success or cause-specific rates of nest failure for 7 common bird species (P < 0.05), and we detected no differences in brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) parasitism rates for the major hosts between grazed and ungrazed areas. Greater than 75% of the nests of the solitary vireo (Vireo solitarius), western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), and blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) were parasitized on both treatments. These high parasitism rates may be the result of high densities of local cowbirds because of abundant feeding sites (i.e., livestock), the high mobility of cowbirds, and the close proximity of ungrazed plots to grazed areas (all <4 km). Our results suggest that 20 years of relief from grazing had little influence on the habitat structure or bird species composition of the pinyon-juniper woodlands on our study site. However, livestock grazing has indirectly affected the nesting success of some songbird species via the influence of grazing on cowbird abundance. Our findings highlight the need for studies that incorporate nest monitoring and landscape-scale approaches to better understand the relation between cowbirds, livestock, and songbirds, and the time required for recovery from grazing effects.

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