New Habitat Guidelines for Six Species of Eastern Wildlife

canada-warblersThe American marten, Bicknell’s thrush, Canada warbler, rusty blackbird, scarlet tanager and wood thrush – six beleaguered northeastern forest animals – should get a boost from a new series of publications explaining how best to create and manage habitat for them.

Guidelines for Managing Habitat for Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need describe landscape and stand-level conditions needed by these six animals. The Guidelines, which range in length from 12 to 20 pages, also identify co-occurring species, such as New England cottontail and golden-winged warbler, which could benefit from the recommended management practices. The publications were developed by a team from High Branch Conservation Services and Plymouth State University with input from public- and private-sector foresters, wildlife biologists and conservation planners from 12 states and three Canadian provinces. Len Reitsma, professor of ecology at Plymouth State University and affiliated member of the Center for the Environment, was a project leader.

The Guidelines were funded by the Northeast Regional Conservation Needs (RCN) Grant Program, with a matching commitment from Plymouth State University, and other collaborating institutions. The Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies administers the RCN program to help states from Virginia to Maine implement their State Wildlife Action Plans.

The six focal species inhabit a variety of settings, forest types and successional stages across the region. The American marten inhabits large tracts of intermediate to mature softwood, hardwood and mixed forests in New York and northern New England. Close relatives of weasels and fishers, martens prefer an interconnected tree canopy where they can climb and move from tree to tree. Woody structure and dense vegetation near the forest floor boost prey abundance and increase denning opportunities for martens.

Bicknell’s thrush is a disturbance-adapted bird that breeds in fir-spruce forests at upper elevations in New York and northern New England. Bicknell’s thrushes typically nest in dense, low-canopy stands dominated by balsam fir, especially following fir waves, a common natural phenomenon on the region’s highest mountains. They also nest among paper birch-balsam fir saplings that arise following timber harvests or fires.

The Canada warbler is a colorful songbird that benefits from wetlands conservation and various methods of harvesting timber in upland settings. In the East, it ranges from North Carolina to northern Maine. Habitat managed for Canada warblers can also benefit young forest specialists such as the New England cottontail and golden-winged warbler.

The rusty blackbird, one of North America’s most imperiled avian species, requires young northern softwoods for nesting. Rusty blackbirds breed in boreal and Acadian spruce-fir forests across Canada, northern New England and New York State.

The scarlet tanager is among the most brilliantly colored birds of the eastern forest. This canopy-nesting species breeds in multi-aged hardwood and mixed hardwood-softwood forests and also uses young forest habitats before migrating to South America in autumn.

The wood thrush is a ground-foraging songbird that nests in shrubs and young trees beneath a mature, hardwood-dominated canopy. Wood thrushes breed in temperate forests of eastern North America, occurring in every state from Virginia to Maine. Like most birds that breed in mature forests, wood thrushes and scarlet tanagers use areas of high sapling density during the post-breeding period, including regenerating timber harvest stands. Many other migratory songbirds use such young forest areas, as do box turtles, timber rattlesnakes, and New England and Appalachian cottontails.

Each set of Guidelines includes information on species distribution and status, suggestions on where to create and sustain habitat, desired habitat conditions, recommended voluntary practices, managing for multiple benefits (including other wildlife that use the same habitats) plus a two-page digest of management considerations for quick reference in the office or the field.

Project leaders for the series are J. Daniel Lambert of High Branch Conservation Services of Hartland, VT, and Reitsma. Additional contributors included a team of environmental biology students at Plymouth State and conservation biologists with the Audubon Society of New Hampshire and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies. The student interns gathered exhaustive material on each of four species and wrote drafts of guidelines sections for each species. They met frequently with Lambert and Reitsma and one, Charlotte Harding, stayed on to assist in further editing of the guidelines. While Lambert took lead on the Bicknell’s thrush and rusty blackbird, Brendan Leonardi spearheaded the work on the wood thrush, Zac Curran on the American marten, Gabe Winant on the scarlet tanager, and Charlotte Harding on the Canada warbler.

Reitsma thanks Kerry Yurewicz, then chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, for her support of the internships. He said “Providing PSU students with relevant experiences that combine their emerging expertise with practical projects is at the heart of internships within the sciences. These guidelines documents are likely to have significant uptake by land managers thanks to the thoughtful process Lambert used in seeking their input.”

The Guidelines can be downloaded free at The project leaders invite you to consider applying these guidelines in forests where you work. If you anticipate using them to help plan conservation or harvest activities, please notify Dan Lambert with information about the location and extent of your project ( or 802-436-4065) to help assess the level of uptake in the region. Inquiries about where the guidelines could be most effectively applied are also welcome. Complementary spatial prioritizations are available from the project leaders upon request.