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Priority Species

Golden-winged Warbler, George Jett

More than 230 species of birds are found in the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture boundary during some portion of their life cycle. Many breed or over-winter here, while others only briefly ‘stopover’ or pass through during migration. Some species have stable or increasing population trends, whereas others are less stable or experiencing long-term declines.

The AMJV focuses on bird species in the greatest need of conservation attention. The species we focus on typically have limited ranges, small population sizes, declining population trends, or use unique or highly degraded habitats. Species that have large percentages of their populations within the AMJV region are also considered priorities, but may not necessarily warrant immediate conservation action.

The AMJV is currently focusing considerable resources and effort on four priority species whose populations are declining rapidly across their range. Two of these - the American Woodcock and the Golden-winged Warbler - spend much of their time in young forests and old field succession environments. Young forests are habitats emerging after storm damage or a timber harvest while old field succession results from the abandonment of a farm. The abundance and quality of these habitats has declined drastically over the last century. We are working with our partners to protect and restore young forests in key areas through active forest management and restoration practices and then maintaining this environment in perpetuity. This will supply the greatest benefit to these priority bird populations as well as provide critical habitat for other birds of concern, like the Prairie Warbler and Whip-poor-will.

Two other priority species - the Cerulean Warbler and Wood Thrush - inhabit large blocks of mature deciduous forest. The connectivity and condition of mature forests in the Appalachians has also changed drastically over the last century. Most present-day Appalachian forests developed in the wake of extensive land clearing that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Since then, the loss of tree species such as the American Chestnut and the Eastern Hemlock, disrupted or absent natural disturbances like forest fires, and increased development across the landscape has dramatically impacted mature forest health and reduced the quality of these habitats for a variety of birds and wildlife. For example, while Cerulean Warblers need large blocks of mature forests, they prefer environments with more open canopies and gaps that allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and not the densely packed trees and closed canopies common throughout much of the Appalachians today. Working with partners, we are improving forest health and restoring and expanding these type of habitats using management techniques based on sound science. This will have a demonstrated benefit to the Cerulean Warbler, Wood Thrush, and other species of concern, including the Kentucky and Hooded Warbler. 

Altogether, AMJV and partners have listed 107 priority bird species within its region. These are species that currently have declining populations and either breed or winter in the Appalachian region, although a few just migrate through. Find below a table that lists priority species most in need of immediate conservation attention within the AMJV.