Warblers and chats may sing a little louder thanks to new efforts to restore and protect million of miles of streams that flow through the western U.S. A Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) scientist studying the relationship between streamside vegetation and migratory songbirds helped devise a simple tool to help protect this important habitat in the semi-arid interior of the West. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will adopt the study’s results as part of its work to assess riparian habitat on private land across the nation.

The study, by Dr. Steve Zack of WCS and Hilary Cooke of the University of Alberta, appears in the July issue of the journal Environmental Management. The scientists looked at riparian areas in eastern Oregon and examined two simple measurements: the average height and width of willows and other woody vegetation along a flood plain. They found that increases in this vegetation led to a greater diversity and abundance of riparian birds including yellow warblers, song sparrows, and yellow-breasted chats.

Zack and Cooke hope their work will encourage landowners to create more in-stream habitat for fish as well as habitat for declining migratory birds. It also provides federal managers like the NRCS with an efficient tool to estimate the value of streams as bird habitat.

“We feel that adding this wildlife component to our stream assessments will help ensure that both streams and riparian habitats can function better on private lands,” said Kathryn Boyer, a fisheries biologist for the NRCS who works with private landowners throughout the west.

WCS is building upon this work to better conserve riparian systems and wildlife habitat.

“As riparian habitat is the most degraded—but most important—habitat in the West, it is imperative to find workable ways to restore our watersheds to ensure that they function to store water, hold soils, and provide habitat to wildlife,” said Zack.

Read the press release: WCS Songbird Study Aids New Federal Guidelines for Safeguarding Waterways