Demographic Declines Over Time and Variable Responses of Breeding Bird Populations to Human Footprint in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, Alberta, Canada

James Saracco
Peter Pyle
Danielle Kaschube
Monica Kohler
Christine Godwin
Kenneth Foster
Resource Date:

Habitat loss and disturbance from industrial resource development may be contributing to declines in boreal bird populations. We applied hierarchical multi-species models to data from 31 bird species at 38 Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) stations to assess 10-year (2011–2020) demographic trends and responses to energy sector disturbance (human footprint proportion) in the Athabasca oil sands region of Alberta, Canada. Adult captures, productivity, and residency probability all declined over the study period, and adult apparent survival probability also tended to decline. Consistent with the hypothesis that habitat loss may be driving declines, trends in adult captures, productivity, and survival were all more negative at stations with larger increases in disturbance over the study period. Species associated with early seral stages were more commonly captured at more disturbed stations, while species typical of mature forests were more commonly captured at less disturbed stations. Productivity was positively correlated with disturbance within 5-km of stations after controlling for disturbance within 1-km of stations, suggesting the importance of earlier successional habitat for post-fledging birds in the larger landscape. Adult apparent survival showed relatively little response to disturbance; stresses experienced beyond the breeding grounds likely play a larger role in influencing survival. Residency probability was negatively related to disturbance within 1-km scale of stations and could reflect processes affecting the ability of birds to establish or maintain territories in disturbed landscapes. We conclude that successional habitats that result from natural regeneration or restoration in disturbed areas, as well as decreased future footprint through recovery of mature forests and limiting of new disturbances, will both be important components of efforts to reverse population declines and maintain bird populations in the region.