Oil and natural gas development in the Intermountain West region of North America has expanded over the last 2 decades, primarily within sagebrush dominated landscapes. Although the effects of energy development on high-profile game species such as the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have been documented, studies examining responses of non-game birds are lacking. Simultaneously, many songbirds that breed within sagebrush steppe habitats have shown range-wide population declines that are likely due to widespread habitat loss and alteration. We evaluated songbird abundance and species richness across gradients of oil and natural gas development intensity, as indexed by well density, at 3 energy fields (2 natural gas and 1 oil) in the Upper Green River Basin, Wyoming, USA during 2008–2009. While simultaneously accounting for important habitat attributes, increased well density was associated with significant decreases in Brewer's sparrow (Spizella breweri) and sage sparrow (Amphispiza belli) abundance, particularly in the Jonah natural gas field. Vesper sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus) were also negatively influenced by increased well density. Horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) increased with well density in the Pinedale Anticline natural gas field, and sage thrashers (Oreoscoptes montanus) showed no response to energy development. Species richness was not significantly affected by well density. Results suggest that regional declines of some songbird species, especially sagebrush-obligates, may be exacerbated by increased energy development. Understanding the specific mechanisms underlying responses to energy development is an important next step and will aid land managers in the development of effective mitigation and management strategies for the maintenance of stable bird communities in sagebrush habitat.
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Vol. 75 • No. 4