Wintering bird responses to the presence of artificial surface water in a semi-arid rangeland

16 February 2017

Tanner, Evan; Elmore, R.; Davis, Craig; Fuhlendorf, Samuel

Provision of artificial surface water has been suggested as a management practice that can benefit wildlife in arid and semi-arid regions. With unprecedented droughts predicted for many of these areas in North America in coming decades, understanding species response to the provision of artificial surface water should be evaluated. Moreover, a dearth of knowledge exists in the understanding of avian response to artificial surface water during the non-breeding season. To address this lack of knowledge, we sampled the avian community at varying distances from water sources in Beaver County, Oklahoma, USA from February-March 2013-2014. A total of 20 species were detected. We found no relationship to avian species richness and distance to water. Likewise, pooled data of detections across all species indicated no relationship in relation to artificial surface water. Analysis on individual species indicated that Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) did not respond to water. However, American Tree Sparrows (Spizella arborea; plateau model β = 0.05, SE = 0.01) were attracted to surface water sources up to a distance of 100 m (SE = 40.19 m). Furthermore, White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys; linear β = -0.01, SE = 0.006) were attracted to surface water sources up to distance of 250 m. Additionally, analysis indicated that used water sources by American Tree Sparrows had significantly more mixed shrub cover (%) when compared to unused water sources (β = 6.04, SE = 2.64; P = 0.03) and that use of water sources by White-crowned Sparrows was influenced by the amount of mixed shrub cover within 50 m of the water source (β = 0.36, SE = 0.16; P = 0.02). Our results suggest that some overwintering sparrows will alter space use in response to the presence of artificial surface water, however, it is unknown whether provision of water influences overwinter survival of sparrows.