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Urban Sprawl Forcing Pacific Northwest Songbirds To 'Divorce'

Development is forcing the Pacific wren and other song bird species to move away from urban areas like Seattle.
John Marzluff
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University of Washington - tinyurl.com/hyoxkru
Development is forcing the Pacific wren and other song bird species to move away from urban areas like Seattle.

Urban development is encroaching on forests and impacting the love lives of some songbirds in the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific wren is having a tough time staying faithful -- at least in Seattle. That’s because a housing boom is taking over the wren’s habitat: the thick forest understory

“I really think it’s just the fact that we really kind of pull the rug out from underneath these birds,” said John Marzluff, a Wildlife Science Professor at the University of Washington.

Marzluff said development is forcing the wren and other song bird species to move. And when that wren moves, it also abandons its mate.

Marzluff’s decade-long study, funded by UW and the National Science Foundation, looks at six species in landscapes undergoing various levels of development.

“if you don’t go out for many years and follow individually marked birds, you’ll never really understand how nesting success over an animal’s lifetime or their strategies of moving and divorcing or finding new partners and places plays out over their lifetime,” Marzluff said.

The birds most impacted by urban sprawl are known as “avoiders.” But some birds aren’t as heavily impacted – they’re called “exploiters” and “adapters.” They include species like crows and sparrows.

Even so, Marzluff says maintaining urban forests will help even the smallest bird species thrive in cities.

“These are not huge areas in the suburban matrix,” he said. “They’re areas of 30 to 150 acres and they are relatively easy to set aside for birds like this.”

The study showed that even after birds reestablish themselves, they still have a hard time laying eggs and rearing chicks. Some might argue it’s love gone fowl.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Emily Schwing
Emily Schwing comes to the Inland Northwest by way of Alaska, where she covered social and environmental issues with an Arctic spin as well as natural resource development, wildlife management and Alaska Native issues for nearly a decade. Her work has been heard on National Public Radio’s programs like “Morning Edition” and “All things Considered.” She has also filed for Public Radio International’s “The World,” American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” and various programs produced by the BBC and the CBC. She has also filed stories for Scientific American, Al Jazeera America and Arctic Deeply.