Large-scale land-use change driven by residential development has degraded native ecosystems and altered the composition of species communities. Concern over the loss of habitat for human-sensitive species has led to questions about how housing impacts bird communities along the urban to rural gradient. Yet most studies of birds in residential ecosystems are limited to the breeding season, thus the effects of housing on avian habitat use in winter are not well understood. We surveyed winter resident birds, vegetation cover and structure, and human activity along a housing gradient in a Colorado landscape undergoing exurban development. Using an occupancy-based approach, we evaluated models for species with sufficient detections (n = 8). We found that habitat use by six species [American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea), Townsend's Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi)] was positively associated with housing density at scales ranging from 100–1,000 m. In contrast, habitat use by two species [Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) and Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)] was negatively associated with housing proximity, and human activity had no effect on habitat use for any species. Canopy cover or understory vegetation cover and structure were important covariates for predicting habitat use of all species modeled. Our results suggest that to maximize the value of residential areas for a diverse wintering bird community, areas with natural vegetation should be incorporated into development planning. Overall, we found that the resident winter birds evaluated in our study were resilient to development in exurban areas. Indeed, these species may be opportunistic in occupying residential habitats that allow them to exploit anthropogenic resources during an energetically expensive time of year.
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