Managing Our Woods for Birds

By Rebecca brown

Many bird populations are declining at an alarming rate. Some of these species have their largest breeding populations in northern New England. Landowners can play a crucial role in keeping these birds from declining even further and maybe even help turn the trends around.

Some local bird favorites, including woodcock, Bicknell’s thrush, scarlet tanager, chestnut-sided warbler, and yellow-bellied sapsucker have a large portion of their global populations breeding here.  The North American Bird Conservation Initiative calls these “responsibility birds,” meaning that we have the collective responsibility to focus land management and conservation work on these species. In other words, the actions we take on our lands will have a crucial impact on the survival of these bird species.  

As a landowner, ACT manages woods for high-quality timber, wildlife habitat, public recreation, and clean water protection. As our ownership grows, new research in conservation biology, climate resilience, and population trends for various wildlife species influences our management goals and practices. Very exciting to us is the emerging partnership among foresters and wildlife biologists focusing on management practices that are good for birds and good for forest products, from high-quality timber to firewood to maple syrup. 

ACT demonstrated logging with horses as part of our winter 2014 timber harvest at the Foss Forest in Sugar Hill. The harvest was planned with birds in mind.

ACT demonstrated logging with horses as part of our winter 2014 timber harvest at the Foss Forest in Sugar Hill. The harvest was planned with birds in mind.

 One partnership that inspires and informs ACT’s forest management is the Foresters for the Birds initiative started by Vermont Audubon. The initiative helps landowners integrate the practices of timber and songbird habitat management.

Following recommendations from Foresters for the Birds, at our Foss and MacCornack-Evelyn forests in Sugar Hill timber harvesting included methods to encourage black-throated blue and blackburnian warblers .By harvesting small groups of trees and retaining some of the largest trees, we now have a more varied forest with many mature trees growing above pockets of young conifers trees and shrubs, just what these species like. 

As a complement to these practices, the harvest also included a three-acre patch cut to create habitat for birds that like openings in the forest, such as chestnut-sided warbler. Now about five  years after the harvest, this patch cut  opening dense with young hardwood trees and shrubs; chestnut-sided warblers  love nesting in the dense tangle of young trees and shrubs now growing in the opening.

Chestnut-sided warbler

Chestnut-sided warbler

Research suggests that these openings are also important for birds that favor mature forest, such as scarlet tanager. They use these openings for foraging, especially after their breeding season and before they migrate south.

Our management plan for our nearby Cooley-Jericho Community Forest includes areas where we will maintain larger, multi-acre patches of younger forest. While the Community Forest and its variety of habitats  is rich with birds, we found an abundance of birds nesting and feeding in the young forest growing across the property, including mourning warbler and Canada warbler, which are among the less common responsibility species, These two species like the high density of young trees growing in the higher elevation, more remote community forest. Without some form of continued management, young forest will grow up and become less suitable for these species.  While we are letting most of the property’s young forest continue to grow, we have identified a few areas to maintain young forest with cutting every 10-20 years.

Interested in how you can manage your land for birds? We’d be delighted to talk with you. Give us a call at (603) 823-7777 or email us at

Here is an excellent guide, from VT Audubon,  Managing Your Woods with Birds in Mind. 

Here is the list of 25 responsibility birds species Vermont. These are also good for New Hampshire.