Nesting in the Adirondacks

February 26, 2013

A new study reveals that some birds keep their distance from human dwellings, while others cozy up to our homes. The study examined the impacts of the human footprint encroaching on the Adirondack Park’s rural areas, finding that development may affect wildlife several hundred meters from our homes.

Ever awake to birds chirping outside your bedroom window? You may not know their distinct calls, but it turns out that certain types of wild birds prefer living nearby human dwellings. Others keep a safe distance from brick and mortar.

In the Adirondacks, hairy woodpeckers, black-throated blue warblers, and other “human-sensitive” birds prefer pristine forests. But their “human-adapted” cousins, among them blue jays and black-capped chickadees, seem to enjoy living alongside people.

After studying 20 bird species near single rural residences in New York’s largest state park, WCS scientists concluded that our human footprint is bigger than previously thought. Even small homes can affect birds living up to 200 meters away, and sensitive animals ultimately risk being displaced. The study authors note that birds serve as valuable indicators of overall biodiversity.

Zoe Smith, WCS Adirondack Program Director, explains, “The Adirondack Park is one of the last large, intact, wild ecosystems in the northeastern United States, and it is becoming increasingly important as we face global threats like climate change. As we strive to find a healthy balance between conservation and the needs of humans within the park, we need to fully understand the impacts of different development patterns.”

These impacts don’t just include the presence of houses in formerly forested areas, but also the vehicles, noise, lights, pets, people, and food sources associated with them. The changes brought on by this so-called “exurban development” can alter the behavior and composition of resident wildlife populations, increase human-wildlife conflicts, and lead to new predator-prey dynamics.

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