Skip to Main Content
Fire and birds in the southwestern United StatesAuthor(s): Carl E. Bock; William M. Block
Source: In: Saab, V.; Powell, H., eds. Fire and avian ecology in North America. Studies in avian biology no. 30. Camarillo, Calif.: Cooper Ornithological Society: 14-32
Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
PDF: Download Publication (2.0 MB)
DescriptionFire is an important ecological force in many southwestern ecosystems, but frequencies, sizes, and intensities of fire have been altered historically by grazing, logging, exotic vegetation, and suppression. Prescribed burning should be applied widely, but under experimental conditions that facilitate studying its impacts on birds and other components of biodiversity. Exceptions are Sonoran, Mojave, and Chihuahuan desert scrub, and riparian woodlands, where the increased fuel loads caused by invasions of exotic grasses and trees have increased the frequency and intensity of wildfires that now are generally destructive to native vegetation. Fire once played a critical role in maintaining a balance between herbaceous and woody vegetation in desert grasslands, and in providing a short-term stimulus to forb and seed production. A 3–5 yr fire-return interval likely will sustain most desert grassland birds, but large areas should remain unburned to serve species dependent upon woody vegetation. Understory fire once maintained relatively open oak savanna, pinyon-juniper, pine-oak, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), and low elevation mixed-conifer forests and their bird assemblages, but current fuel conditions are more likely to result in stand-replacement fires outside the range of natural variation. Prescribed burning, thinning, and grazing management will be needed to return fire to its prehistoric role in these habitats. Fire also should be applied in high elevation mixed-conifer forests, especially to increase aspen stands that are important for many birds, but this will be an especially difficult challenge in an ecosystem where stand-replacement fires are natural events. Overall, surprisingly little is known about avian responses to southwestern fires, except as can be inferred from fire effects on vegetation. We call for cooperation between managers and researchers to replicate burns in appropriate habitats that will permit rigorous study of community and population-demographic responses of breeding, migrating, and wintering birds. This research is critical and urgent, given the present threat to many southwestern ecosystems from destructive wildfires, and the need to develop fire management strategies that not only reduce risk but also sustain bird populations and other components of southwestern biological diversity.
- You may send email to email@example.com to request a hard copy of this publication.
- (Please specify exactly which publication you are requesting and your mailing address.)
- We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
- This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
CitationBock, Carl E.; Block, William M. 2005. Fire and birds in the southwestern United States. In: Saab, V.; Powell, H., eds. Fire and avian ecology in North America. Studies in avian biology no. 30. Camarillo, Calif.: Cooper Ornithological Society: 14-32
Keywordsbirds, chaparral, desert, fire, grassland, mixed-conifer, pine-oak, prescribed burning, riparian, savanna, Southwest, wildfire
- Response of birds to fire in the American southwest
- Trial by fire: Restoration of Middle Rio Grande upland ecosystems
- Effects of watershed management practices on sediment concentrations in the southwestern United States: Management implications
XML: View XML