Managing Forests for Birds

Chestnut-sided Warbler © Phil Doyle
Chestnut-sided Warbler © Phil Doyle

The forests of New England are vital for the survival and reproduction of many birds, such as the Chestnut-sided Warbler and Wood Thrush. Yet numerous forest birds have undergone a drastic decline in numbers, raising concerns among conservationists.

These declines can be attributed in part to the current habitat conditions found in our forests. Creating and maintaining hospitable habitat will be key to sustaining our forest birds, and doing so requires engagement and action.


The Connection Between Forests & Birds


Wood Thrush with food in a forest © Kathy Porter
Wood Thrush © Kathy Porter

Prior to European colonization, Massachusetts was a forested landscape, where natural processes created differences in the age, size and species of trees, and their composition within forests. However, by the middle of the 1800's, about 80% of the Massachusetts landscape had been cleared for agriculture.

The eventual decline of agriculture in the state allowed our forests to resurge, and Massachusetts is now about 60% forested. But not all forests are equal when it comes to supporting healthy and diverse bird populations. Different species have different needs when it comes to forest age and structure. The forests in Massachusetts are largely considered to be middle-aged, and there is not much young or old forest, the latter of which offers particularly high-quality breeding habitat for birds.

Some birds breed exclusively in young forests (<20 years old) and a lack of habitat has limited their numbers in the state. Similarly, species that favor the complex structure of trees, shrubs, dead logs, and canopy gaps found in old forests have been limited.

Natural disturbances, such as intense storms and flooding from beaver dams, once cleared large areas of trees and created young forest habitat. Now, our middle-aged forests are less susceptible to storm damage, and we suppress beaver activity and other disturbances. Smaller disturbances and natural tree mortality create the ideal structural conditions found in old forests, but few old forests exist. As it stands, a lack of natural disturbances and a prevalence of homogeneous middle-aged forests present deficiencies in our bird habitat.


Foresters for the Birds


Related Resources 

This article about the program was featured in the Summer 2017 issue of Mass Audubon's Explore magazine:

Read Managing Forests for Trees & Birds Alike >

Check out the presentation from our Foresters for the Birds workshop in Hanson:

Working Forests for Birds, Climate Change, and Your Community >

Mass Audubon has partnered with the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Mass Woodlands Institute to bring the Foresters for the Birds program to Massachusetts. Originating from an Audubon Vermont initiative, the program provides technical assistance for landowners to manage their forests for bird habitat. Carefully planned and sustainable forestry practices can create young forest habitat, and enhance the structure within our maturing forests.

Our Foresters for the Birds program trains foresters to assess the existing bird habitat in a forest, make recommendations for improvement, and plan out bird-friendly management strategies. Empowering landowners to manage for birds is important because about 75% or our forests are privately owned. Therefore, enabling management on these lands can greatly impact the conservation of our forest birds.

Learn more about the program >


Bird-friendly Maple Project


Taps and buckets in Drumlin Farm's sugar maple grove

Enjoy maple syrup while supporting forest birds by purchasing bird-friendly maple syrup from producers who manage not only for sap, but also bird habitat!

Maple syrup is produced by collecting and boiling sap from a sugarbush, which is loosely defined as a group of maple trees. Many sugarbushes consist only of maple trees. A monoculture like this provides habitat for birds—but by managing the forest with birds in mind, it can be even better.

By growing other tree species, incorporating habitat features such a cavity trees and logs on the ground, and creating layers of vegetation, a maple producer can provide higher quality nesting and foraging opportunities for forest birds.

These actions also help to reduce maple insect pests and disease, encourage long term sap production, and make the sugarbush more resilient to climate change.

About the Project

The Bird-friendly Maple Project was created by Audubon Vermont. The Massachusetts project is a partnership between Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts DCR's Working Forest Initiative, and the Massachusetts Woodlands Institute.

Label for certified Massachusetts Bird-friendly Maple Project

Buying Bird-Friendly Maple Syrup

Keep an eye out for the bird-friendly maple syrup logo. The Massachusetts program launched in fall 2021 and we hope to have several producers on board for the 2022 season.

In the meantime, you can find a list of producers in Vermont >

Certification Process

If you're a maple producer in Massachusetts who is interested in making your maple syrup bird-friendly, please review the Habitat Guidelines for Sugarbushes (coming soon).

Contact Us

For more information about this project, please reach out to our team by email.