In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in spring 2010, the Natural Resources Conservation Service implemented the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) to provide temporary wetland habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, and other birds along the northern Gulf of Mexico via managed flooding of agricultural lands. We used weather-surveillance radar to conduct broad regional assessments of bird response to MBHI activities within the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Across both regions, birds responded positively to MBHI management by exhibiting greater relative bird densities within sites relative to pre-management conditions in prior years and relative to surrounding non-flooded agricultural lands. Bird density at MBHI sites was generally greatest during winter for both regions. Unusually high flooding in the years prior to implementation of the MBHI confounded detection of overall changes in remotely sensed soil wetness across sites. The magnitude of bird response at MBHI sites compared to prior years and to non-flooded agricultural lands was generally related to the surrounding landscape context: proximity to areas of high bird density, amount of forested wetlands, emergent marsh, non-flooded agriculture, or permanent open water. However, these relationships varied in strength and direction between regions and seasons, a finding which we attribute to differences in seasonal bird composition and broad regional differences in landscape configuration and composition. We detected greater increases in relative bird use at sites in closer proximity to areas of high bird density during winter in both regions. Additionally, bird density was greater during winter at sites with more emergent marsh in the surrounding landscape. Thus, bird use of managed wetlands could be maximized by enrolling lands located near areas of known bird concentration and within a mosaic of existing wetlands. Weather-radar observations provide strong evidence that MBHI sites located inland from coastal wetlands impacted by the oil spill provided wetland habitat used by a variety of birds.
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Vol. 13 • No. 1