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A New Study Measures Bird Diversity

By James Reddoch 


Chestnut-sided warbler by Steve Wolfe

The Mahoosuc Land Trust is participating in a new study designed to measure the impact of forestry management practices on bird diversity. This study, the Song Meter Project, is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is a collaboration between the New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF), Maine Audubon and three local groups: Mahoosuc Land Trust (MLT), Inland Woods and Trails, and the Smith family farm.


Christine Parrish, Western Maine Project Specialist for NEFF, explains that the goal of this study is to collect baseline wildlife habitat data on properties where NEFF’s Exemplary Forestry management plans and Maine Audubon’s Forestry for Maine Birds program have been put to use. The data from this year will serve as a standard of comparison for data collected in the future. Birds and their song are used because they serve as a strong indicator of how a particular forest is doing. Like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” if birds are thriving, it is good news for the entire forest.


After a recent training, a small team of volunteers from MLT was given three Acoustic Recording Units (ARUs) to place at pre-selected sites across the MLT McCoy Chapman Forest. These ARUs are book-sized audio devices that are programmed to begin recording bird songs starting thirty minutes before and an hour-and-a-half after sunrise. This the time when birds are most vocal and often referred to by birders as “the dawn chorus.”

Birds and their song are used because they serve as a strong indicator of how a particular forest is doing. Like the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” if birds are thriving, it is good news for the entire forest.

The ARUs will be moved from time to time in May and June to ensure that the recordings are a good representation of birds on the property. The recordings will then be put into a powerful software program, similar to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin bird song identification app. This software program identifies the different birds that are recorded singing and will provide baseline data that will be used for comparison in future years to see how our forestry management practices are working. Says Christine, “The long-term view is going to help us shape future forest management on behalf of the forest birds as well as over 80% of vertebrate wildlife in Western Maine.”


These ARUs are well marked, but the sites where they are placed are typically more remote and trails will remain open during the study. Watch this newsletter for future updates on what we are learning about the birds at McCoy Chapman as the data becomes available. Better yet, get out and see what birds you can hear. Download the free Merlin app to your phone and you will become a mobile ARU! You might be amazed at what you can hear this spring. 



Photo Credit: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Steve Wolfe

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