The decline of savanna habitat in the upper Midwest has resulted in a decline of savanna and grassland birds. Many savanna restoration efforts involve the re- introduction of fire, a method which kills fire-sensitive trees, often leaving them standing as snags. The purpose of this study was to assess how the number of snags (standing dead trees) is associated with the breeding bird community and to document how the number of snags at a site varied over a 23 y period of restoration by fire. The effect of snags on bird communities was studied by establishing bird census plots along a wide range of snag abundances. To determine for what purposes birds utilized snags, observers documented all visits during an hour-long period for pairs of a dead and live tree. Change in the abundance of snags over time was documented over 23 y in a 16 ha grid. We found both bird species richness and abundance were positively associated with the number of snags and that birds used dead trees for mating and reproductive purposes more than live trees. We found the introduction of fire for restoration purposes initially resulted in an increase in the number of snags, but repeated fires eventually caused the number of snags to decline substantially. If a primary goal of savanna restoration is to enhance breeding bird community, our results show how burn regimes can be managed to maximize the number of dead tree snags for as long as possible.
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