Stoddard Bird Lab to Study Fire Effects on Coastal Marsh Bird Species

Fire has had an effect on almost every natural ecosystem found in Florida and southern Georgia. The frequency with which fires returned to some habitat types may not have been as regular as that needed to maintain our upland pinelands, but return it did at some point, and of course likely had an effect on habitat quality for several key species.

Watercolor of Seaside Sparrows by George M. Sutton, painted as an illustration for the book, Georgia Birds, by Thomas D. Burleigh, published in 1958.

Thanks to a new grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s RESTORE Science Program, the Stoddard Bird Lab will be studying the effects that fire has in coastal marshes along Florida’s Big Bend Coast. Lots of evidence suggests fires worked into these areas from adjacent pinelands, but how frequently and with what benefits for species such as Black Rail, Yellow Rail, Mottled Duck, Seaside Sparrow, and others is unknown.

The award supports five years of research to learn more about these effects. We’ll be getting our feet a bit more wet regularly, but the support extends our reach and doesn’t mean a drop in the work we’re doing with the beautiful pine forests of the Red Hills region. We’ll have support for a full-time project manager, as well as seasonal field crews. We also plugged in support for our burn teams so that they can help conduct some of the experimental burns needed in these coastal areas.

Of key interest will be effects on Black Rail, one of the most secretive bird species we have in North America. They use coastal areas throughout Georgia and Florida, and are under review for listing as an imperiled species, but information on how best to manage sites for this species are woefully inadequate. Some of the highest counts come from areas where fires are used regularly to burn the marsh habitat rails occupy. But is it best to burn such sites every year, every other year, or perhaps every 3-4 years? This is one of the questions we hope to address. One of the key issues is promoting the grass cover favored by rails in these areas, while controlling encroaching shrubs (such as the wax myrtles and baccharis shown in this picture on St. George Island).

For more information, visit:


« Back to eNews