Forest health linked to birds

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.”