- The Eastern Boreal region provides a vast expanse of relatively healthy wetland and forest habitats for nesting birds, but knowledge of the status of its birds is limited because most monitoring is restricted to the southern edges.
- Within the monitored area, characteristic species have declined slightly overall, with shrub and forest-edge birds showing the steepest declines, forest birds showing little change and waterfowl and other water birds showing slight increases.
- The boreal landscape has been shaped by natural disturbances (e.g., fires, beavers, insect outbreaks) for millennia. Large-scale industrial activities, such as forestry and mining, as well as climate change, are altering disturbance patterns and are likely to change bird communities. For instance, controls of spruce budworm outbreaks have negatively affected warblers that feed on budworm caterpillars.
Monitoring in the Eastern Boreal is difficult due to the region’s large size and relative isolation. Trend data for most species, other than waterfowl which are monitored from the air, come only from the more accessible southern edges of the region.
Overall, species that are characteristic of the Eastern Boreal have decreased by 12%. Shrub and forest-edge birds have shown the largest declines; over the last 40 years, all but one species has declined. All species in this group are migratory, and threats to their wintering habitat may be important.
Helicopters or airplanes are the only effective
way to count ducks and other water birds in
many parts of the boreal. (photo: Christine
Almost half of the characteristic species of the Eastern Boreal are forest birds. Overall, forest species show little change. However some resident species have strongly increased, such as the Common Raven, Pileated Woodpecker and Red-breasted Nuthatch, while many migrants have decreased, such as Bay-breasted, Blackpoll and Canada Warblers.
Boreal Chickadees are year-round residents of
dense spruce-fir forests in the Boreal. (photo: Nick
Internationally, the loss of shrub and forest habitats in the Caribbean and Central and South America further threatens the migratory species that breed in the Eastern Boreal region. Forests in these wintering areas are being cleared for agriculture and forestry to support increasing human populations and growing international demand for products from these industries. Mangrove habitats—important for wintering shrub and forest edge species—are being lost to coastal development for beach tourism and shrimp aquaculture.
Cape May Warblers breed in the boreal forest
and winter in Cuba and other Caribbean
islands. Like many other boreal songbirds,
their populations depend on conservation of
adequate habitat in their tropical wintering
areas. (photo: Laura Gooch)
Forest management that emulates the pattern and schedules of natural disturbance leads to a mix of habitat types and forest stand ages, thus ensuring healthy bird populations, which in turn help control insect pests.
The Boreal provides a vast nursery for millions of
warblers, such as these Black-throated Blue
Warblers, that migrate through southern Canada
and the United States to Central and South America.
(photo: George Peck)
The conservation of remaining native habitats in the Caribbean and Central and South America would provide local ecological benefits such as clean air and clean water, support sustainable industries such as ecotourism while providing wintering habitat for boreal birds. Forest plantations and shade-grown coffee support many birds and should be encouraged.
The effects of climate change, such as increased flooding and fires, will be difficult to mitigate in the Boreal forest. Addressing the underlying causes of climate change is essential for long-term conservation.
Longridge Point, James Bay (photo: Mark Peck)
The coastlines of James Bay and Hudson Bay provide crucial stopover and staging habitat for many species of migratory waterfowl, other water birds and shorebirds, including Stilt Sandpipers
Stilt Sandpipers (photo: May Haga)