Filter strips are strips of herbaceous vegetation planted along agricultural field margins adjacent to streams or wetlands and are designed to intercept sediment, nutrients, and agrichemicals. Roughly 16,000 ha of filter strips have been established in Maryland through the United States Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Filter strips often represent the only uncultivated herbaceous areas on farmland in Maryland and therefore may be important habitat for early-successional bird species. Most filter strips in Maryland are planted to either native warm-season grasses or cool-season grasses and range in width from 10.7 m to 91.4 m. From 2004 to 2007 we studied the breeding and wintering bird communities in filter strips adjacent to wooded edges and non-buffered field edges and the effect that grass type and width of filter strips had on bird community composition. We used 5 bird community metrics (total bird density, species richness, scrub-shrub bird density, grassland bird density, and total avian conservation value), species-specific densities, nest densities, and nest survival estimates to assess the habitat value of filter strips for birds. Breeding and wintering bird community metrics were greater in filter strips than in non-buffered field edges but did not differ between cool-season and warm-season grass filter strips. Most breeding bird community metrics were negatively related to the percent cover of orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) in ≥1 yr. Breeding bird density was greater in narrow (<30m) compared to wide (>60 m) filter strips. Our results suggest that narrow filter strips adjacent to wooded edges can provide habitat for many bird species but that wide filter strips provide better habitat for grassland birds, particularly obligate grassland species. If bird conservation is an objective, avoid planting orchardgrass in filter strips and reduce or eliminate orchardgrass from filter strips through management practices.
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Vol. 75 • No. 1