Birds Need Lots Of Different Forest Habitats

In the recent edition of the Maine Woodland Owners’ newsletter, Bob Duchesne published a very informative column about the different forest habitats needed by our birds.

Bob is our state’s best birding guide and has published Maine birding guides. He’s also a longtime legislator – for sure, one of our best.
I got permission from Bob and MWO to share that column with you. Here it is.

Bob’s column

I started 2018 by cleaning the basement. I also decluttered my inbox. In so doing, I chanced upon an old email I sent to Robbins Lumber years ago. I had just done some birding on Robbins land around Nicatous Lake, and I couldn’t help but admire how well-managed their forest was. I wrote to thank them.

A well-managed forest is a beautiful thing. I admire woodlands that sustain diverse habitat, and I especially respect forestry practices that prevent silting of trout streams. I see examples of great management all over the state, but what I observed on the Robbins land was so extraordinary that I felt I needed to write and say “thank you.” I was back up there in November, and the beauty reminded me of my earlier visit.

Years ago, I wrote a letter to thank Baskahegan Company. One of their logging roads in Washington County is among my top three favorites in the state. The road has an unusually dense concentration of spruce, fir, and red pine. This makes it attractive to many of the northern forest birds that can be difficult to find. I’ve been visiting this road for 20 years, so I’ve been able to watch how fast the forest regenerates. The rapid regeneration happens because Baskahegan pays great attention to using its equipment lightly, so as to not damage the soil or choke regrowth with misplaced slash.

I’m currently serving my 12th year in the Maine legislature. Although it’s rare, sometimes I get drawn into debates about what the forest should look like. I’ve heard arguments that the Maine forest is a pristine wilderness. It isn’t. I’ve heard arguments that trees only have value if they are harvested. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or maybe the imagination.

As a bird expert, my perspective is uniquely focused on habitat. Maine is blessed with a wide variety of birds, and each species has its habitat niche. For instance, we have more than two dozen species of warblers nesting in the state –an unusually high number compared to other states. Some of our warblers like hardwoods, some prefer soft. Some like mature forest, some favor young. Some stay near the ground, some never leave the canopy. The same thing happens with our abundance of vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, sparrows, woodpeckers, etc. The more habitat diversity there is in a woodland, the more variety of birds that can be found there.

Even selective clear cuts can be good for some birds. Mourning warblers are scarce and difficult to find in Maine, occurring primarily in the northern part of the state. What they love best are areas that are regenerating – areas that have dense brambles, usually with a thin overstory of young maples to provide a little shade and additional cover. They are secretive but noisy. Invariably, I hear them before I ever see them.

In pre-colonial days, Mother Nature relied on fires, floods, and beavers to open up the canopy and create habitat variety. Those are now suppressed, and it’s often the harvester that generates forest diversity. I had the pleasure of visiting a harvest site with a professional forester last year. The landowner’s specific goal was to improve habitat for wildlife on the parcel, particularly grouse. I also walked one of the state’s Wildlife Management Areas with a forester from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife last year. The department uses targeted logging as a key tool in managing its woodlands for wildlife.

I can usually look at a patch of forest and know what birds are likely to be present. In fact, one of my favorite pleasures is to drive the logging roads of northern Maine looking for outstanding patches. Whenever I venture out the Golden Road and up the Telos Road, I am keenly aware of what a privilege it is to recreate on private lands, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

Such an opportunity comes with responsibility, which I preach to other adventurous birders every chance I get, including this one. I avoid active logging operations, stay out of the way of trucks, shun parking in the wrong places, and don’t litter. I avoid damaging roads in mud season, or any season. And I say thank you every chance I get, including this one.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.