Environmental Management

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 110-125

First online:

Assessing Landowner Activities Related to Birds Across Rural-to-Urban Landscapes

  • Christopher A. LepczykAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1222Department of Forest Ecology and Management, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 120 Russell, Labs, 1630 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706-1598
  • , Angela G. MertigAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1222Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1111
  • , Jianguo LiuAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824-1222

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Fluctuations of bird abundances in the Midwest region of the United States have been attributed to such factors as landscape change, habitat fragmentation, depredation, and supplemental feeding. However, no attempt has been made to estimate the collective role of landowner activities that may influence birds across a landscape. To investigate how landowners might influence birds when the majority (> 90%) of land is privately owned, we surveyed all 1694 private domestic landowners living on three breeding bird survey routes (∼120 km) that represent a continuum of rural-to-urban landscapes in Southeastern Michigan from October through December 2000. Our survey was designed to investigate (1) the proportion of landowners involved in bird feeding, providing bird houses, planting or maintaining vegetation for birds, gardening, landscaping, applying fertilizer, and applying pesticides or herbicides; (2) whether differences existed between urban, suburban, and rural landowner activities; and (3) whether landowners that carried out a given activity were sociodemographically different from those who did not. Of the 968 respondents (58.5% response rate), 912 (94%) carried out at least one of the activities on their land and the average landowner carried out 3.7 activities. A total of 65.6% fed birds, 45.7% provided bird houses, 54.6% planted or maintained vegetation for birds, 72.7% gardened, 72.3% landscaped, 49.3% applied fertilizer, and 25.2% applied pesticides or herbicides. Significant differences existed between the landscapes, with rural landowners having more bird houses and applying pesticides or herbicides in greater frequency. Similarly, urban landowners had a greater density of bird feeders and houses, but planted or maintained vegetation in the lowest frequency. Participation in activities varied by demographic factors, such as age, gender, and occupation. Scaling each activity to all landowners, including nonrespondents, across all landscapes indicates that between 14% and 82% of landowners may be engaged in a particular activity, with application of pesticides or herbicides having the least potential involvement (13.9%–55.4%) and gardening having the greatest potential involvement (40.1%–81.6%). Taken collectively, our results indicate that landowners are both intentionally and unintentionally engaged in a wide range of activities that are likely to influence bird populations.


Private land Human-dominated landscapes Social survey Avian ecology Wildlife management BBS, Breeding bird survey Human dimensions