By Jeff Zeringue
Forests are for the birds.
Really, they are. And having forests of varying ages is even better to attract a broader variety of bird species, says Emily Jo Williams, vice president of the American Bird Conservancy, and that comes from managed forests.
“Those managed forests play that critical role to provide that diversity (bird species need),” Williams said.
In May, Williams guided a group of forest industry folks including foresters, scientists and landowners to discover how birds are indicators of healthy forests. That, however isn’t the only reason.
“Birds are the best way to connect people with nature,” Williams said. “Birds are easy to find; they’re everywhere.”
Birding — people who travel to see birds — is a billion-dollar industry in the United States, she said.
Williams is a wildlife biologist who has more than three decades experience working for state and federal wildlife agencies and two non-governmental conservation groups. Her background is extensive when it comes to what makes good habitat for wildlife.
That experience tells her that managed forests create good habitat for different species of birds.
“The first thing is they’re forests; we want to keep them as forests,” Williams said.
Most landowners manage their forest lands with wildlife in mind, said Jeremy Poirier, fiber sustainability manager for International Paper.
“I’ve been kind of working with forestry and how it affects birds in the U.S. South for about 22 years,” Poirier said. “Working with company foresters or wood suppliers or landowners, I’ve always found that they’ve enjoyed identifying the birds responding to their management.”
Well-managed forests that maintain varying ages of trees provide habitat for more species of birds, Poirier said.
“In a big picture sense, the more birds you have on the property, the healthier the forest,” he said.
Certain management practices also provide habitat for specific species and birds respond well to it.
“The redheaded woodpecker, for example, it needs dead snags,” Poirier said. “Sometimes you can leave some for them to find and you can go out the next spring and you can see them. You can see them using those dead snags for nests.”
Another example is the use of wide streamside management zones.
“Water thrush responds well to wide SMZs,” he said, “the Acadian flycatcher the same thing.”
It isn’t only what trees are kept after a harvest but the replanting and reforesting harvested areas that create habitat for some species of birds, Williams said, such as warbler. Poirier added that successional habitat is important for species like the prairie warbler, but young forests are needed for the species for nesting.
“It’s always exciting to me for people to learn that a lot of birds need younger forests,” Poirier said.
David Young III manages the Young Estate out of Campti. He said adding birdwatching to the mix of management is beneficial to more than bird species.
“I’m a landowner and I grow timber for market and birding is a low-cost addition to what can be done with timberland in north Louisiana,” he said.
Some of that management is geared for hunters.
“All hunters are birdwatchers, that comes with the territory. Duck hunters are big time birder watchers because they have to know which bird is a federal offense and which is not,” Young said with a chuckle.
Clubs that lease land for a long time are beneficial to landowners because they are familiar with the property and any changes that occur, whether it’s a natural or human cause.
Young suggests that including birdwatching on timberland might be done similarly to hunting leases. Leases could allow for birders on the property.
“You can do it different times a year when deer hunters are not there,” Young said. “It would have to be a conscious effort and start with something like hunting leases.”
May’s birding event was considered successful, Williams said. Poirier was impressed that more than 30 species of birds were either seen or heard during the outing. Young, an avid photographer, enjoyed the opportunity to shoot photos, though he lamented he doesn’t yet have the equipment to shoot photos of birds from the great distances.
Ann Allen and her husband, Joey, of Barr Land & Timber, were enthusiastic about the outing. Ann Allen said it was good to hear about how birds might not like habitat that is so tidy, such as humans like to make.”
“The birding field day was an excellent way for landowners to learn how to manage their forests to best provide habitat for many species of birds,” Ann Allen said.
The Allens hope for more similar outings to learn more, but they also have taken to heart what’s around them when out on their own property.
“Before when you’re out in the woods, you’re used to the sounds so much that you don’t notice them,” Joey Allen said. “When I’m out there, I’m listening.”
That’s the point Poirier hopes more people get at such outings, whether landowner or land manager.
“It’s always interesting to me to see the excitement of people who have spent a lot of time or career in the woods and a lot of the time they say they’ve never stopped to see how many birds were out there,” he said.
Williams agreed, saying that in addition to the number of people who attended, their backgrounds were diverse — landowners, land managers and scientists — and “everyone was so interested and engaged.”
A week before the outing, Williams visited the sites to explore the possibilities of what species people attending the workshop might see. During that outing, she saw an immature male painted bunting. So she was elated a week later with what the group was able to experience.
“One of my happiest surprises was when we found the painted bunting,”she said. “It was a little unexpected.”
It all comes back to the good management of the forest land, Williams said. Birds are simply an indicator of the forest’s health, but to recognize that more people need to make the connection with caring for forested land. The responsibility for managing forest lands, whether commercial or a private owner, is great. She said she has a lot of respect for people and companies willing to take on that risk.
“Everybody should own at least 10 acres and be responsible for owning that land and make the decisions for keeping it healthy,” Williams said. “It definitely changes your perspective.”
That perspective should include how everyone benefits from clean water, wildlife, clean air and the many products that come from the forest.
“I’m always amazed that people don’t make the connection with the things they purchase,” Williams said. Most of us couldn’t go an hour without using something that came from a managed forest.
“Did you breathe today ... you should thank a forest owner.”