Characteristics of Urban Natural Areas Influencing Winter Bird Use in Southern Ontario, Canada
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Characteristics of urban natural areas and surrounding landscapes were identified that best explain winter bird use for 28 urban natural areas in southern Ontario, Canada. The research confirms for winter birds the importance of area (size) and natural vegetation, rather than managed, horticultural parkland, within urban natural areas as well as percent urban land use and natural habitat in surrounding landscapes. Alien bird density and percent ground feeding species increased with percent surrounding urban land use. Higher percent forest cover was associated with higher percentages of forest, bark feeding, small (<20 g) and insectivorous species. Natural area size (ha) was related to higher species richness, lower evenness and higher percentages of insectivorous, forest interior, area-sensitive, upper canopy, bark feeding, and non-resident species. Higher number of habitat types within natural areas and percent natural habitat in surrounding landscapes were also associated with higher species richness. Common, resident bird species dominated small areas (<6.5 ha), while less common non-residents increased with area, indicative of a nested distribution. Areas at least 6.5 ha and more generally >20 ha start to support some area-sensitive species. Areas similar to rural forests had >25% insectivores, >25% forest interior species, >25% small species, and <5% alien species. Indicator species separated urban natural areas from rural habitats and ordination placed urban natural areas along a gradient between urban development and undisturbed, rural forests. More attention is needed on issues of winter bird conservation in urban landscapes.