Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group

Protecting forest birds at risk in the Priority Place

The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program at Birds Canada is very pleased to be a part of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s initiative to increase forest cover and connectivity within the Long Point Walsingham Forest (LPWF) Priority Place.

Birds Canada is a non-profit charitable organization with the mission to conserve wild birds through sound science, on-the-ground actions, innovative partnerships, public engagement, and science-based advocacy. The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program has been operating at Birds Canada since 2011 and completes extensive bird surveys throughout southwestern Ontario as well as in the Frontenac region of eastern Ontario.

An endangered Prothonotary Warbler. Photo: Sue Drotos.

Ontario Forest Birds at Risk goals in the LPWF Priority Place are to improve the conservation status of four rapidly declining forest birds in southwestern Ontario’s forests: Acadian Flycatcher (Endangered), Louisiana Waterthrush (Threatened), Cerulean Warbler (Endangered), and Prothonotary Warbler (Endangered). Project results are intended to direct conservation and stewardship efforts over the short and long term.

Ontario Forest Birds at Risk’s primary project objectives are to:

  • Determine and monitor the location of the four target species at risk in the LPWF Priority Place
  • Search for and monitor nests to determine their outcome for three target species at risk in the LPWF Priority Place;
  • Identify forest health risks to the target species at risk in the LPWF Priority Place
  • Increase key audiences’ awareness and understanding of the target species at risk and conservation needs, and to engage landowners and managers in stewardship for species at risk
  • Increase our understanding of Cerulean Warbler habitat preferences in Ontario

The surveys completed by the Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program help landowners and managers make important conservation decisions to protect species at risk populations and habitat. Keeping an eye on these populations also helps track the health of our old-growth forests. All four rapidly declining birds are an indicator for old-growth forests in southwestern Ontario, meaning that seeing these birds indicates that a forest is healthy, diverse, and capable of withstanding some forest health risks such as invasive species.

In addition to bird surveys, The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program takes advantage of their time in the forest to identify destructive invasive species such as Gypsy Moths and Emerald Ash Borer, and provide information to land owners and managers in taking action against them. These invasive species are devastating our forests throughout southern Ontario. Potential invasive species, such as Oak Wilt and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, are also surveyed for. These tree diseases are currently ravaging oak and hemlock trees in northeastern North America. If these diseases spread, this would directly affect the Acadian Flycatchers and the Louisiana Waterthrushes that depend on hemlock for nesting and forest cover, as well as the Cerulean Warblers which nest in and around oak trees.

An endangered Cerulean Warbler. Photo: Trish Snider.

“Over the past decade of completing bird surveys, we’ve seen year after year that private landowners have been the most important contributor to the success of species at risk protection,” says Ian Fife of Birds Canada. “Of all four high priority species the Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program has detected, approximately 25% of the species at risk are found in private landowner woodlots and forests.”

The Ontario Forest Birds at Risk program completes surveys at no charge, and welcomes any person who wishes to have their woodlot surveyed or who would like to find out more about the Forest Birds at Risk program to contact Ian Fife at

Managing invasive species in forested areas

Norfolk County stands out among other southern Ontario regions both in the amount of wooded area and the diversity that comes with being located in the Carolinian forest region. The climate of this region allows the growth of varied and rare species. In fact, there are more rare or threatened species here than in any other Canadian biozone.

Invasive species threaten this important diversity. Most invasive plant species occur because they are introduced as an ornamental plant which then spreads through the natural landscape, overtaking native plants and replacing natural forest diversity with a monoculture, or a single non-native species.

This results in a loss of overall native biodiversity, leading to an increased number of species at risk or a complete loss of important insect and plant life. This is why targeting invasive species in wooded areas is a top priority for the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group.

“While we strive to maintain the natural and native landscape of Norfolk County, invasive species continue to expand throughout the region. Our goal is to reduce as many invasive species as possible,” says Ian Fife, chair of the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group. “This initiative will be used to target woody stemmed invasive species such as European Buckthorn, Autumn Olive, and Multi-flora Rose to name a few.”

Using a portion of the funding received from Environment and Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service, the Working Group has conducted surveys to locate invasive species and determine the extent of the invasive species risk. The group has shared the results of these surveys with land managers, giving detailed locations of invasive species in their woodlots. This information will be used to prioritize problem areas where management activities will be conducted using direct application of an herbicide which will not affect other plants. By reducing woody invasive species, the Working Group is helping to restore and maintain the important biodiversity of wooded areas in the Priority Place.

Tree planting to increase forest cover and diversity

Forest ecosystems face pressures from many natural and human stressors, such as invasive species, agricultural production, and climate change. These pressures result in reduced native diversity and fragmented forests, which restrict the movement of plants and animals, and degraded ecosystems that are less suitable for biodiversity.

Trees and forests are one of the most vital responses we have to address climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the form of wood and vegetation, a process termed “carbon sequestration.”

A priority for the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group is engage in actions to increase forest health within the Priority Place. A portion of the funding provided by Environment and Climate Change Canada – Canadian Wildlife Service will be used by this collaborative group to plant trees to increase forest cover and improve habitat.

An interior forest wetland in the LPWF Priority Place. Photo: Brian Craig.

One goal of the tree planting is to increase forest connectivity. Landscape connectivity broadly refers to the degree to which the landscape facilitates or impedes movement among resource patches. By identifying areas of low forest connectivity, the Working Group can plant native tree species to enhance connectivity and allow increased and easier movement of organisms between forested areas. This is an important factor for maintaining biodiversity.

Planting native tree species is also useful for increasing interior forest cover forest diversity. Interior forests provide unique habitat favored by many important plants and animals since it is more secluded and less vulnerable than forest edges which are close to developed or agricultural land. By increasing forest cover and native tree diversity in interior forest areas, the Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group can help increase biodiversity and improve the functioning of these important forest ecosystems.

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