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Virginia Program Seeks to Conserve and Protect Important Bird Areas

Removing inavasive species like Autumn Olive is critical for providing the best habitat for wildlife; photo by USFWS.
Important Bird Areas, or IBAs, are sites that provide essential habitat for breeding, migrating, or wintering birds. Within the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are six IBAs contained within the AMJV: the Upper Blue Ridge Mountains, Allegheny Highlands, Radford Army Ammunition Plant, Mount Rogers/White Top, Powell and Stone Mountains, and Pine Mountain. Of these, the Allegheny Highlands IBA and Upper Blue Ridge Mountains IBA were identified as Globally Important by the National Audubon Society because they support significant populations of Cerulean Warbler (present in both) and Golden-winged Warbler (present in the Allegheny Highlands).

The Virginia IBA Program seeks to conserve and protect these IBAs by supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts and monitoring priority species. For example, the Program teams with the National Park Service (NPS) to promote breeding season surveys for Cerulean Warbler in the Upper Blue Ridge Mountains IBA. Additionally, the Program co-sponsors volunteer events with the NPS Mid-Atlantic Exotic Plant Management Team focusing on the removal of invasive plant species (autumn olive, multiflora rose, and garlic mustard) in critical habitats.

In the Allegheny Highlands IBA, the Virginia IBA Program conducted Golden-winged Warbler survey work in 2005, 2006, and 2009. In 2010, a study examining Golden-winged Warbler habitat selection within the IBA was undertaken by Dr. Lesley Bulluck of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), with funding by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and VCU. Dr. Bulluck led surveys of over 100 early successional habitat patches on mostly private lands in order to determine their occupancy status by Golden-winged Warblers and collect vegetation data. Patti Reum, a member of the Bath-Highland Bird Club, was instrumental in helping Dr. Bullock’s survey team gain access to private lands throughout Highland and Bath counties. Surveys found that 42% of the sites were occupied by Golden-winged Warblers, often with only one or two breeding pairs. Few hybrids and only one Blue-winged Warbler pair were detected. Analyses are being conducted to tease out any differences between occupied and unoccupied sites. Data suggest that the spatial distribution of shrubby vegetation is an important factor in Golden-winged Warbler occurrence (shrubs clumped together seem to be ideal). Hopefully these scientific efforts, in combination with on-the-ground conservation work, will help partners in VA to protect and preserve Golden-winged Warbler populations in the Allegheny Highlands IBA for years to come.