The value of riparian habitats to birds differs among ecosystems. I tested whether riparian habitat near large streams and rivers in the Pacific Northwest supported a higher abundance and diversity of birds than adjacent upland forest. From 1996 to 1998, I surveyed breeding birds at four 9-ha sites in coastal western hemlock forest on western Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Five species of forest generalists dominated both riparian and upland bird communities: Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), and Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis). Species richness and total abundance were similar over the riparian-to-upland gradient, whereas abundances of riparian specialists and aerial foragers declined with distance from the river. To explore whether vegetation composition and structure explained bird distribution patterns, I sampled three locations along both riparian and upland transects at each site. Riparian areas had higher densities of deciduous trees; conifer and snag densities were higher in upland areas. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) cover was marginally higher in riparian areas and blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) cover was higher in upland areas. There was little effect of distance from the river on most bird species, but there were stronger associations of birds with specific vegetation attributes. Tree and snag densities explained the most variation in abundance of aerial foragers, and eight of nine individual species, whereas distance from the river and shrub cover were important predictors of Hammond's Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii) abundance. Apart from riparian specialists and a few species with strong vegetation associations, bird assemblages in riparian and upland habitats of this moist forest type were dominated by similar sets of generalist species.
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