Category Archives: Working Landscapes

Bird-friendly Forestry at Elm Hill

These 17 birds were chosen to represent different forest habitats and management options in the Massachusetts Foresters for the Birds program.

Mass Audubon’s Foresters for the Birds program provides assistance for private landowners to manage their forests for bird habitat. Empowering private landowners is important because about 75% of Massachusetts’ forests are privately owned, and management on these lands will be necessary to address conservation needs on a landscape scale.

To promote the program, and to engage and educate the public, we are creating a long-term demonstration site at our Elm Hill wildlife sanctuary in Brookfield and North Brookfield. The first step: develop a 100-year forest management plan for Elm Hill. To do this we are working with a forester who was trained in our Foresters for the Birds program.

In addition to mapping different forest resources, and describing the amount and value of the standing timber, this plan also includes an assessment of the current bird habitat and recommendations for improvement. For example, the structure of the forest understory and midstory, where many birds place their nests, are described in each area of the forest.

The plan also includes strategic locations for the placement of early successional habitat. We are currently reviewing initial drafts of the plan, and working with our forester to iron out the nitty gritty details.

Once the plan is complete, we will then undergo active forest management on the property (probably next year), which will include things like removing invasive plants, and selectively removing trees to improve the composition, health, and resiliency of the forest.

We are also designing a bird monitoring study which will investigate how effective our forestry practices will be.  Because on-the-ground management will not happen until well after this year’s breeding season for birds we have the opportunity this year to characterize how birds are currently using the forest. Comparing that data to similar data collected post management will help us adapt our future efforts to maximize the benefits to our birds.

Beginning as soon as this summer, we will invite foresters, landowners, land trusts, and other conservation entities to visit the property and see how they can manage their woodlands for birds and other wildlife.

Keep checking back for more updates as we nail down our plans and begin the bird monitoring. For more information about the project, see our previous blog post.

Photo credits From top left: American Woodcock © David Larson; Black-and-white Warbler © David Larson; Black-throated Blue Warbler © John Harrison; Black-throated Green Warbler © John Harrison; Brown Thrasher © Patricia Pierce; Canada Warbler © David Larson; Chestnut-sided Warbler © David Larson; Eastern Wood-Pewee © Fyn Kynd; Eastern Towhee © John Harrison; Mourning Warbler © Gerard Dewaghe; Northern Bobwhite © Paul McCarthy; Northern Flicker © Richard Campbell; Ruffed Grouse © Richard Johnson; Veery © Mark Thorne; White-throated Sparrow © David Larson; Wood Thrush © Sheila Carroll; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker © John Harrison

New RCPP Grant Will Help Protect Southern NE Heritage Forest

As we celebrated the holidays with fellow Mass Audubon staff, Jeff Collins received an email announcing that a large Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant that our team and partners applied for had been approved!

About $6.1 million will be used to protect and manage forests in the Southern New England Heritage Forest. The area is bounded by Hartford and Springfield in the west, Providence in the east, and runs from the Long Island sound north to the Quabbin reservoir. This region contains a critically important continuous corridor of high-priority forested wildlife habitat.

Over 70% of these woodlands are privately owned, so this grant will focus on engaging

landowners and helping them maintain their forests as forests through sound management and— whenever possible—permanent protection.

Mass Audubon’s role in this grant is to assist project partners’ efforts by providing bird habitat recommendations for forest management plans, training more technical service providers (TSPs) to incorporate birds in their work, increasing TSP registration numbers, and conducting wildlife monitoring on managed sites. Our team will also teach landowners about bird-friendly forest management.

The project will begin in the spring of 2018 and run for five years.

Foresters for the Birds Program comes to Elm Hill

Brown Thrasher by John Sill

Brown Thrasher by John Sill

Birds that breed in young or recently disturbed forests are a conservation priority in Massachusetts.  Sharp declines of these species, such as the Eastern Towhee and Brown Thrasher, have been linked to habitat loss due to changes in the frequency of these natural and anthropogenic disturbance regimes.  For example, fire and flooding have been suppressed, our familiar middle-aged forests are less susceptible to storm damage, and once common forestry practices have declined.

However, carefully planned forestry is one of the most effective ways to create early successional habitat, and the corresponding breeding bird species respond positively.  What’s more, some species of birds that breed in the more mature surrounding forests use these same young forests during the post-fledgling period – a time of high morality after young have left the nest.  Having this habitat in place also bolsters populations of mature forest breeders.

Mass Audubon’s Foresters for the Birds program responds to this conservation need.  The program provides technical assistance to private landowners who wish to manage their woods for important bird habitat, including the creation of early successional forest.

To further this conservation initiative, Mass Audubon will demonstrate these science-based habitat management techniques at our Elm Hill sanctuary.  Not only will this project provide crucial habitat for species in decline, but the site will also be used to educate professional foresters, agency staff, conservation professionals, the land trust community, our members, and the public at large.

Funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, the project is in its initial phase.  The end product will be a 100 year plan to maintain a mosaic of forest successional stages, including various ages of young forest, and stands that will naturally progress towards old growth conditions.  In this initial phase, we are working with a Foresters for the Birds trained forester to map out the existing forest resources, and determine areas to be actively managed for bird habitat.  Other phases include monitoring birds to assess and adjust our management efforts, delivering public outreach, engaging the help of volunteers, and conducting studies of other taxa to inform management decisions.

This will be an exciting time of sharing and learning, and we hope you will follow along with the project as we post further updates.

Forest Bird Program


White-throated Sparrow, John Sill

One of the top recommendations from our Breeding Bird Atlas 2 and State of the Birds 2013 work was to create more young forest habitat. Birds that breed in young forests, such as the White-throated Sparrow and Eastern Towhee are some of our most steeply declining species.

Jeffrey Ritterson, our Forest Bird Conservation Fellow has been working hard to promote support for young forest birds. Jeff has been working on the Foresters for the Birds Program, a partnership between Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts Woodlands Institute and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The program trains consulting foresters, who create habitat management plans for private landowners, to manage forests for birds. Around 70 % of Massachusetts’ forests are privately owned so the program has the potential to greatly affect the quality of forest habitat in the state.


Early successional forest habitat in Petersham, MA

The program is currently focused in areas west of the Connecticut River and Jeff has been busy preparing for the eventual statewide expansion of the program. In addition to training consulting foresters and conducting forest bird habitat assessments on properties, Jeff has been working to update existing outreach materials. These updated ‘how to guides’ will include information specific to forest types and bird assemblages that correspond to regions of Massachusetts.

In April Jeff attended the annual Mass Forest Alliance meeting in Holyoke to promote the program. There is a busy summer ahead for the program with many workshops and habitat assessments booked across the state!

Managing Forests for Birds

Eastern Towhee, by John Sill.

Eastern Towhee, by John Sill.

On October 15th Joan Walsh and Jeff Ritterson joined their partners from  MassWildlife,  the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Franklin Land Trust to present an integrated land management program to interested citizens in (gorgeous) Leyden, MA.

Leyden is one of the focal towns in our Foresters for the Birds program, and our staff spent the day introducing landowners to the thoughts behind the program, as well as introducing land management ideas to benefit grassland nesting birds.

Many thanks to Scott Sylvester, Consulting Forester,  Drew Vitz, our State Ornithologist, as well as DCR Service Forester Alison Hunter Wright and Wendy Sweetser Ferris from Franklin Land Trust for making it a successful day. And thanks to Mother Nature for putting on her party dress, and making the leaf peepin’ nearly perfect.


Foresters and landowners learning about bird friendly management practices in Leyden, MA.


Fantastic fall colors, Leyden MA.


Fellow for Forest Birds Update


Mass Audubon’s Fellow For Forest Birds Jeffrey Ritterson.

Jeffrey Ritterson, our new Bird Conservation Fellow for Forest Birds has been very busy since starting in September. Jeff came to us having just completed his Masters at Umass and is now working to expand our Foresters for the Birds program to new parts of the state. During the past few weeks, he has been reaching out to landowners interested in improving bird habitat in their forests and conducting walks on properties with foresters to review management options.

Additionally, as Mass Audubon embarks on a partnership with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to actively improve habitat for at risk forest species, he will be designing studies and monitoring protocols to assess the effectiveness of any actions. This will include studying the effects of creating early-successional forests – a rare habitat type in Massachusetts.