Avian density and nest survival on the san pedro river: Importance of vegetation type and hydrologic regime

L. Arriana Brand, Juliet Stromberg, Barry R. Noon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Lowland riparian vegetation in the southwestern United States is critically important for maintaining a high richness and density of breeding birds. Further investigation is needed within riparian corridors, however, to evaluate the relative importance of vegetation type and hydrologic regime for avian density and nest survival as targets for regional conservation or restoration efforts. We estimated the densities of 40 bird species and for species grouped on the basis of nest height and dependence on surface water in gallery cottonwoodwillow (Populus spp.Salix spp.) forests, saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) shrub lands, and terrace vegetation types along a gradient in the hydrologic regime of the San Pedro River, Arizona, USA. We also assessed nest survival for shrub-nesting insectivores and herbivores. Canopy-nesting birds as a group and 14 individual bird species reached their greatest densities in cottonwood forests regardless of the hydrologic regime. Water-dependent birds as a group reached their highest density in both intermittent- and perennial-flow cottonwood stands, but certain species occurred almost exclusively in perennial-flow sites. Two shrub-nesting species and the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) were most abundant in saltcedar shrub lands, and the brown-headed cowbird was most abundant in saltcedar stands with intermittent flows. Mesquite (Prosopis spp.) and big sacaton (Sporobolus wrightii) grassland each maintained the highest densities of certain species within ≥1 hydrologic regime. Shrub-nesting insectivores had the greatest nest survival in cottonwood, including Arizona Bell's vireo (Vireo bellii arizonae), and also had lower proportions of nests parasitized and preyed upon, although 95 confidence intervals among vegetation types overlapped. Nest survival for both shrub-nesting insectivores and herbivores was lowest in intermittent-flow saltcedar, although, again, confidence intervals overlapped. Nest survival was lower in parasitized than nonparasitized nests in mesquite and across vegetation types for Arizona Bell's vireo and in cottonwood for Abert's towhee (Pipilo aberti). Riparian management that maintains heterogeneous riparian vegetation types, including floodplain vegetation comprising cottonwoodwillow gallery riparian forests with some stretches of perennial flow, are important for maintaining the high diversity and abundance of breeding birds on the San Pedro River and probably across the region. Cottonwood stands also appear to maintain highest nest survival for some shrub-nesting birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-754
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2010


  • Abert's towhee
  • Abundance
  • Arizona
  • Bell's vireo
  • Cottonwood
  • Mesquite
  • Riparian
  • Saltcedar
  • Surface water
  • Yellow-breasted chat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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