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Arboriculture & Urban Forestry Online
Volume 30, Issue 5 — September 2004


Richard H. Yahner, Bradley D. Ross, Richard T. Yahner, Russell J. Hutnik, and Stephen A. Liscinsky

Abstract: The long-term nesting ecology of birds was studied during 2002 and 2003 on the State Game Lands (SGL) 33 Research and Demonstration Area, which is located along a 230-kV transmission right-of-way (ROW) of FirstEnergy (Penelec) in the Allegheny Mountain Region, Centre County, Pennsylvania, U.S. The objectives of this study were to compare nest abundance, success, and placement (1) in handcut versus herbicide-treated study sites (units) and (2) in wire versus border zones. In addition, results from this study were compared to those obtained in a previous study conducted in 1991­1992 on the ROW to better understand the long-term effects of vegetation maintenance management on wildlife. Thirty-three and 26 nests of 10 bird species were noted in 2002 and 2003, respectively. The most frequently encountered nests in 1991­1992 and 2002­2003 were those of bird species adapted to early successional habitats, for example, eastern towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), created by the wire­border zone method of vegetation maintenance on the ROW. Thirteen (39%) of 33 nests of all species combined fledged young in 2002 compared to 17 (65%) of 26 nests in 2003. Nesting success in 2003 on the SGL 33 ROW was typical of most studies of bird nesting success in a variety of habitats and was comparable to that recorded in 1991­1992. The low-volume basal unit was more important as nesting habitat than either handcut or mowing plus herbicide units, with nine species nesting in the low-volume basal unit versus only four species in each of the other two units. Thirty-five (59%) of the 59 nests on the ROW were in wire zones, whereas 24 (41%) nests were in border zones. In conclusion, mowing plus herbicide treatment on a ROW may be the best application of the wire­border zone method in terms of resistance to seedling invasion of undesirable trees, cover-type development in the wire zone, and its value as wildlife habitat. Because early successional habitat is becoming less common in the eastern United States and because species dependent on these habitats are showing populations declines, the maintenance of a ROW via the wire­border zone method is extremely valuable to the long-term conservation of early successional bird species.

Keywords: Breeding birds; handcutting; herbicides; nesting ecology; rights-of-way; vegetation.

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