Although the negative impacts of urbanization on ecological communities are usually emphasized in the literature, urban parks may make positive contributions to conservation. We hypothesized that riparian forest parks surrounded by urban development would support greater numbers and diversity of wintering birds than similar forests in more rural landscapes due to improved food resources and microclimate conditions in urban landscapes. During winters 2001–2002 and 2002–2003, we surveyed bird communities three times each year at 36 sites located in riparian forests along a rural-urban gradient in central Ohio. At each forest site, we measured forest width (m), landscape characteristics (percentages of urban and forest cover within 1 km), and local variables describing both habitat and microclimate conditions. Species richness, total abundance, and numbers of nine of 10 species were positively related to urban development within 1 km. These patterns may be partially explained by positive associations between urban development within 1 km and winter temperatures, numbers of birdfeeders near sites, and understory stem densities. Unlike most studies of breeding birds, our results suggest that an urbanizing landscape matrix surrounding riparian forests may benefit some native birds in winter.
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