SPECIES: Aimophila aestivalis
Table of Contents


Jim Cox, Tall Timbers Research Station

Meyer, Rachelle. 2006. Aimophila aestivalis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].



Bachman's sparrow
Pine woods sparrow

Aimophila aestivalis (Lichtenstein) is the scientific name of the Bachman's sparrow, a member of the Emberizidae family [3].

Three subspecies are currently recognized by the American Ornithologists' Union [2]:
Aimophila aestivalis aestivalis (Lichtenstein)
Aimophila aestivalis bachmani (Audubon)
Aimophila aestivalis illinoensis (Ridgeway)



No special status

Information on state-level protected status of animals in the United States is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.


SPECIES: Aimophila aestivalis

According to literature reviews, Bachman's sparrows occur primarily in the southeastern United States from the central region of peninsular Florida north to limited areas of extreme southern Virginia and west through portions of Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri to eastern Oklahoma and eastern Texas [19,47]. Bachman's sparrows may rarely occur in more northerly areas that were part of their historic breeding range, including most of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania and Maryland [19,45,62]. A map of the Bachman's sparrow's historic and current distribution can be found at NatureServe by clicking the species database link and performing a search.

Reviews also describe the range of the 3 subspecies of Bachman's sparrow. Aimophila aestivalis aestivalis breeds furthest east, from southeast South Carolina to peninsular Florida. Aimophila a. bachmanii occurs west of A. a. aestivalis to Mississippi and north to Kentucky. Aimophila a. illinoensis occurs in the westernmost region of the species' range [19,47,62]. Since subspecies are typically not distinguished in the literature, they will not be discussed further in this review.

The following lists are speculative and are based on the habitat characteristics and species composition of communities Bachman's sparrows are known to occupy. There is not conclusive evidence that Bachman's sparrows occur in all the habitat types listed, and some community types, especially those used rarely, may have been omitted.

FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak-pine
FRES39 Prairie

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)



K079 Palmetto prairie
K083 Cedar glades
K111 Oak-hickory-pine
K112 Southern mixed forest
K114 Pocosin
K115 Sand pine scrub

46 Eastern redcedar
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
74 Cabbage palmetto
75 Shortleaf pine
79 Virginia pine
80 Loblolly pine-shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
83 Longleaf pine-slash pine
84 Slash pine
111 South Florida slash pine

803 Missouri glades
811 South Florida flatwoods
812 North Florida flatwoods
813 Cutthroat seeps
814 Cabbage palm flatwoods
821 Pitcher plant bogs

In addition to the community types listed above, Bachman's sparrows commonly occur in clearcuts. Bachman's sparrows have been reported in clearcuts recently planted with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), shortleaf pine (P. echinata), and/or longleaf pine (P. palustris) [5,30,63]. Bachman's sparrows were present in a young longleaf pine plantation in South Carolina where the predominant understory species were bluestems (Andropogon spp.) and panicgrass (Panicum spp.) [63]. In northern Florida, Bachman's sparrow occurred in young (2-4 yr) clearcuts comprised of slash pine (Pinus elliottii), inkberry (Ilex glabra), saw-palmetto (Serenoa repens), oaks (Quercus spp.), and blackberry (Rubus spp.) [8].


SPECIES: Aimophila aestivalis

Jim Cox, Tall Timbers Research Station

Migration: Reviews and a field guide summarize the limited information available on Bachman's sparrow migration [19,45,47,62]. Bachman's sparrows in the southern portion of the range are resident, while those in Missouri, Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and extreme northern Mississippi and Alabama migrate south during winter [47]. Due to their secretive nature in winter, determining the presence of Bachman's sparrows is difficult. However, records of Bachman's sparrow occurrence on breeding grounds and specimens of subspecies collected outside their normal breeding range suggest that spring migration occurs from mid-March to May and fall migration occurs from late August through to late October [19,45,62].

Breeding: Bachman's sparrows' breeding season typically begins in April and continues through August. According to a literature review the earliest date for Bachman's sparrow eggs in Florida is 14 April and the latest date is 4 August [62]. The earliest Bachman's sparrow nest found during a study in longleaf pine habitat of South Carolina was 10 April, while the latest nest found was early in the incubation stage on 5 August [63]. In a study of Bachman's sparrow reproduction in shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations of Arkansas, egg laying started as early as 17 April and continued until 26 August. However, 85% of clutches were started in May, June, or July [30]. A review summarizes the timing of Bachman's sparrow nest construction and egg-laying, including records from more northern areas in the Bachman's sparrow's historic range [19].

Bachman's sparrows typically raise 2 broods per breeding season and will renest after failed attempts [30]. In shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations of Arkansas, the average time between fledging of the 1st brood and starting the 2nd brood was 12.3 days. This was not significantly (p=0.39) different than the 9.7-day average period between a failed nest and a subsequent nest attempt. On average, females attempted 3.1 nests per season. The maximum number of attempts per season was 5 [30]. The maximum number of nests attempted in longleaf pine habitat of South Carolina was also 5. After 2 successful nests, a female attempted 3 times to raise a 3rd brood [63]. Limited evidence, summarized in reviews, suggests that 3 broods per season may occur occasionally [19,62]. Dates of possible 2nd broods are included in one of these reviews [19].

Bachman's sparrow nests are constructed on the ground by females and are primarily comprised of grasses. All nests (n=71) found in a study in shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations of Arkansas were built on the ground. Most nests (70%) were built at the base of bluestem clumps, although nests were found at the base of small trees, forbs, and other grass species [30]. On the same study site, only 7% of nests were not either partially or completely domed. Most nest entrances were oriented to the north [31]. Several reviews summarize information on nest construction [19,45,62]

According to reviews, clutch size varies from 3 to 5 [45,62]. Average clutch size on a site in Arkansas was 3.9 [30], while in a longleaf pine community in South Carolina mean clutch size was 3.6 [63]. Both of these studies found significant (p≤0.02) decreases in clutch size as the breeding season progressed [30,63]. On a dry prairie site in Florida (n=9) average clutch size was 3.44 and on another (n=5) it was 3.6 [50]. In shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations of Arkansas, females laid an average of 11.6 eggs (n=20) over the course of the breeding season [30].

In shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations in Arkansas, females incubated eggs for 13 to 14 days. The average nestling period was 9 days, and the average period between fledging and independence was 25 days. Both parents care for the young during these periods [30]. Although there is a lack of data, a review suggests that Bachman's sparrows probably breed the year after hatching [19].

Bachman's sparrows exhibit some fidelity to breeding sites. Over a 2 year period in shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations of central Arkansas, 6 of 34 adults returned to areas where they had a territory in a previous year. This varied across years, with a 29% return rate of adult birds banded in 1983 and none of the adults banded in 1984 returning to the site in 1985. No juveniles (n=60) returned to the site [30].

Nesting Success: Values of nest success reported for Bachman's sparrows vary. Daily nest survival rate of Bachman's sparrow ranged from 0.89 to 0.96 across sites and years in the dry prairie of central Florida. On average 3.13 birds were fledged per successful Bachman's sparrow nest. Estimates of productivity ranged from 1.21 to 4.16 offspring per pair per year across sites and years [50]. In a South Carolina longleaf pine community, daily survival rate of Bachman's sparrow nests in 1995 was 0.952, which was significantly (p=0.04) higher than the 1996 daily nest survival rate of 0.889. Earlier nesting attempts (before June 15th, n=15) had significantly (p=0.05) higher survival rates than those started later in the year (n=11). Daily nest survival rate was 0.922 during incubation and 0.973 during the nestling stage [63]. In central Arkansas, daily success rate during the incubation period was 0.965, while in the nestling period it was 0.919 [30]. In the glades of south-central Missouri, 8 female Bachman's sparrows fledged an average of 1.5 young per season over 2 years [10]. Predation accounted for 80% of egg loss on study sites in Arkansas [30] and 94% of nest failures on sites in central Florida [50]. Information on Bachman sparrow nest predators can be found in the Predators section of this summary. Cowbirds [30] and nest abandonment [50] were the other known causes of nest failure.

Survival: Survival of Bachman's sparrows during the breeding season has been investigated in a South Carolina study area dominated by longleaf pine [37,58,63]. Recapture of banded birds resulted in a monthly survival rate during the breeding season of 0.94 [37]. Using radio telemetry, average survival of Bachman's sparrows from 20 April to 26 July was 80.0% [58]. In another radio telemetry study, 4 mortalities out of 38 Bachman's sparrows were documented over 2 years. The overall breeding season survival rate was estimated as 0.893 [63]. According to a literature review, Bachman's sparrows have been captured that were at least 3 years old [19].

Bachman's sparrows inhabit areas with a dense layer of ground vegetation and open mid-stories with scattered shrubs and saplings, including young clearcuts and open pine (Pinus spp.) forests [10,18,32,52,66].

Habitat characteristics: Bachman's sparrows' need of a dense layer of herbaceous vegetation is widely documented. Vegetation density was greater below 3 feet (0.9 m) than above 3 feet (0.9 m) and percent ground cover and percent grass cover were consistently higher (>58%) on sites occupied by Bachman's sparrow than unoccupied sites in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina [33]. In 17- to 28-year- old slash pine plantations of northwestern Florida that had been burned within 4 years, Bachman's sparrow abundance was significantly (p=0.043) correlated (r=0.46) with relative volume of grass [66]. In longleaf and loblolly pine stands of varying ages and under different management in South Carolina, areas occupied by Bachman's sparrows consistently had high vegetation volumes ≤3 feet (1 m) above ground [18]. Sites occupied by Bachman's sparrows in longleaf pine woodlands of Florida managed for the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) had significantly (p=0.007) higher vegetation densities ≤ 2 feet (0.5 m) than unoccupied sites in the study area. Grass density, primarily bluestems (Andropogon spp. and Schizachyrium spp.) ≤ 2 feet (0.5 m) above ground, was also significantly (p=0.004) greater on occupied compared to unoccupied sites [52]. Bachman's sparrows were significantly (p≤0.01) more abundant in mixed pine-grassland restoration stands in Mississippi, which had greater understory, grass, and forb cover, than traditionally managed stands [73]. In 1- to 6-year-old loblolly pine stands of eastern Texas, herbaceous ground cover (p=0.003) was greater in study areas occupied by Bachman's sparrows [70]. In south-central Missouri, glades occupied by Bachman's sparrows had significantly more grass (p=0.03) and forb cover (p=0.0005) than unoccupied glades [10]. However, vegetation densities below 3 feet (0.9 m) and percent ground and grass cover in areas occupied by Bachman's sparrow did not differ significantly (p>0.05) from unoccupied areas of loblolly and shortleaf pine plantations in Arkansas [32].

Factors such as the patchiness of vegetation and species composition of the ground layer may affect habitat suitability by influencing foraging success and the availability of food and nesting material. In Georgia, Bachman's sparrows did not occur in open areas with uniformly dense herbaceous vegetation, despite these sites having a similar volume of vegetation ≤3 feet (1 m) above ground as recently-burned pineland sites that were occupied by Bachman's sparrow [28]. Although measurements were not taken, observations of Bachman's sparrow in clearcuts in eastern Texas suggest they may favor tall grass in clumpy rather that uniform distribution [70]. In loblolly and shortleaf pine plantations of Arkansas, explanations suggested for a lack of evidence of ground layer features influencing selection of breeding territories included importance of habitat characteristics that were not measured, such as patchiness of the herbaceous layer and species composition [32]. In a predominantly longleaf pine forest in Georgia, Bachman's sparrows were significantly (p=0.04) more abundant in areas where ground cover was primarily Beyrich threeawn (Aristida beyrichiana), compared to relatively disturbed communities comprised of bluestems (Andropogon spp.) and silkgrass (Pityopsis spp.) [55].

Amount of litter and debris on a site may influence Bachman's sparrow habitat selection. Percent litter cover was consistently high (>58%) on sites occupied by Bachman's sparrow in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina [33]. Although statistical significance was not tested due to small sample size, Bachman's sparrows occurred at higher densities in control plots (1.5 territories/40 ha) than plots that had downed coarse woody debris >4 inches (10 cm) in diameter removed (0.4 territories/40 ha) in a loblolly pine forest of South Carolina. Haggerty [33] suggests that litter may provide habitat for Bachman's sparrow prey, but that too much litter could interfere with foraging. In loblolly and shortleaf pine plantations of Arkansas, litter cover (78%) and depth (0.5 inches (1.2 cm) on sites occupied by Bachman's sparrows were significantly (p≤0.01) lower than litter cover (88.9%) and depth (1.6 inches (4.2 cm)) on unoccupied sites [32].

Bachman's sparrow inhabits areas with open overstories. In sites in eastern Texas of varying age since clearcutting, study areas occupied by Bachman's sparrows had significantly (p<0.01) fewer short (≤ 10 feet (3m)) and tall (>10 feet (3m)) trees than unoccupied study areas [5]. In longleaf and loblolly pine stands of varying ages and under different management in South Carolina, plots occupied by Bachman's sparrows consistently had low volumes of vegetation from 7 to 13 feet (2-4 m) above ground compared to unoccupied sites [18]. In middle-aged and mature forests of Georgia comprised primarily of loblolly pine, Bachman sparrow densities were negatively associated with tree/shrub volume and vegetation volume from 7 to <16 feet (3 to <5 m) [28]. In loblolly and shortleaf pine plantations of Arkansas, Bachman's sparrow breeding areas had significantly lower percent canopy cover (p<0.001), shorter woody vegetation (p≤0.01) and fewer trees (p<0.001) and shrubs (p≤0.05) than unoccupied sites [32]. In south-central Missouri, Bachman's sparrows occurred in glades with less than 30% woody cover, and occupied glades had significantly (p≤0.05) lower percentages of deciduous and coniferous saplings, deciduous and coniferous trees, and total woody vegetation [10]. Mid-story density was marginally (p=0.055) greater on unoccupied sites, and Bachman's sparrow abundance was significantly (p=0.043) negatively correlated (r= -0.446) with mid-story density in longleaf pine woodlands of northwestern Florida. However, relative abundance of Bachman's sparrows was not significantly (p=0.107) associated with canopy cover and there were no significant (p=0.133) differences in canopy cover between occupied and unoccupied sites [52].

There is evidence that Bachman sparrow may prefer sites with some tall vegetation. In north-central Florida, densities of Bachman's sparrows in young (2-4 years) slash pine plantations with artificial snags added (n=3) was 31.4 pairs/kmē, while in similar vegetation without snags (n=3) Bachman's sparrow density was 22.3 pairs/kmē [8]. In an area in South Carolina comprised of longleaf and loblolly pine, Bachman's sparrow occurred at significantly (p=0.002) higher density in clearcuts than middle-aged (22-50 years) stands, while in another area clearcuts had relatively low densities of Bachman's sparrows. Vegetation differences between the 2 sites are likely to explain the difference. The site with relatively low densities of Bachman's sparrows had been drumchopped, which resulted in a lower volume of vegetation from 3 to 7 feet (1-2 m) above ground. The authors suggest that the lack of vegetation in this height range may have limited perches, resulting in fewer birds on the site [18]. An investigation of Bachman's sparrow habitat characteristics in 1- to 6-year-old loblolly pine stands of eastern Texas led to recommendations that 2 to 5 tall (>39 feet (12 m)) trees/100 ha remain on a clearcut for Bachman sparrow singing perches [70]. In Georgia, the lack of vegetation from 10 to <16 feet (3 to <5 m) was suggested as a possible reason for the absence of Bachman's sparrows from open field vegetation [28]. However, across the southeast, vegetation density from 3 to 6 feet (0.91-1.8 m) above ground varies widely on sites occupied by Bachman's sparrows, suggesting their requirements for the density of this vegetation layer are comparatively flexible [33].

In the dry prairie of central Florida, Bachman's sparrows used clumps of saw-palmetto that had "natural" burrows significantly (p<0.001) more than would be expected based on availability. The authors suggest that Bachman's sparrows in prairie habitat use burrows as areas of refuge from predators [14].

Landscape Level Effects: Several studies have investigated the importance of landscape attributes on Bachman's sparrows. For a discussion of the possible importance of patchiness of vegetation within a site see the habitat characteristics section.

The ability of the Bachman's sparrow to detect and colonize areas before they are no longer suitable may depend on the size and isolation of the habitat. In south-central Missouri, only glades ≥ 29 acres (11.7 ha) were occupied by Bachman's sparrows [10]. The probability of Bachman's sparrow occupying pine-grassland restoration stands in Mississippi increased as size of areas with long burning rotations, short-harvest rotations, and no removal of hardwoods decreased (p=0.05) and as the perimeter to area ratio of these areas increased (p=0.02) [73]. In South Carolina, distance from source populations significantly (p≤ 0.05) influenced the ability of Bachman's sparrows to colonize recent clearcuts in both years on one study area and in 1 of 2 years in another study area. The authors suggest that the presence of corridors in the latter study area may have resulted in distance being less influential [16].

Bachman's sparrows' association with edge habitat is uncertain. In eastern Texas clearcuts with relatively abundant loblolly pine, sites with Bachman's sparrow territories were significantly (p<0.01) closer to the edge of the study area and the number of Bachman's sparrows was significantly (p<0.05) correlated (r=-0.22) with distance to edge [5]. However, in dry prairie of central Florida the difference in Bachman's sparrow densities in edge and core habitat was not significant (p≥0.36), and both edge and core habitat were considered population sinks [50].

For a review of studies that use spatial modeling to investigate Bachman's sparrow populations see [17].

Territory/density: Territory size of Bachman's sparrows varies. In Missouri glades, reports of average Bachman's sparrow breeding territory range from 1.5 acres (0.62 ha, n=13) [34] to 7 acres (2.9 ha, n=7) [10]. In loblolly and shortleaf pine plantations of central Arkansas, mean home range size (n=25) during the breeding season was 6 acres (2.5 ha) [32]. In on a south-central Florida site with saw palmetto and scrub palmetto (Sabal etonia) interspersed amongst threeawn (Aristida spp.), Bachman's sparrow territories (n=6) averaged 12.5 acres (5.1 ha) [44]. In winter (November-January), the average home range size of 8 Bachman's sparrows was 1.6 acres (0.65 ha) in the dry prairie of central Florida [14].

Bachman's sparrow density during in the breeding season has been estimated in several habitats. On clearcuts of various ages with relatively abundant loblolly pine in eastern Texas, maximum Bachman sparrow density was 1.9/10 ha [5]. In South Carolina, Bachman's sparrow densities ranged from 0 to 0.48/ha across sites of different ages and management regimes [18]. In Georgia, Bachman sparrow densities ranged from 0 to 0.92 birds/ha on sites ranging from an open field to middle-aged and mature forests comprised primarily of loblolly pine [28]. In a south-central Florida community comprised of saw palmetto, scrub palmetto, and threeawn, Bachman's sparrow density averaged 1 male/33 ha [44]. In dry prairie of central Florida, Bachman's sparrow densities varied from 0.92 to 3.24 territories/10 ha across sites and years [50]. Bachman's sparrow densities calculated from breeding bird censuses in longleaf pine forests was >15 territories/40 ha, while densities from winter bird population studies were from 6 to 10 individuals/40 ha [21].

Bachman's sparrows forage on the ground for plant seeds and arthropods. In a predominately loblolly and shortleaf pine habitat of eastern Texas, all Bachman's sparrow foraging observations were on the ground [1] and a literature review states that Bachman's sparrows rarely forage in shrubs [19].

Reviews [19,43,62] and an investigation of the Bachman sparrow's diet in eastern Texas [1] summarize the species that comprise the Bachman's sparrow's diet. A variety of grass seeds such as panicgrasses, bristlegrasses (Setaria sp.), crowngrasses (Paspalum spp.), and threeawns are eaten by Bachman's sparrows as well as seeds of several other taxa, including blueberries (Vaccinium spp), pines, and sedges (Carex spp). Arthropods in the Bachman's sparrow's diet include grasshoppers and crickets (Orthoptera spp.), spiders (Araneae), beetles (Coleoptera spp.), caterpillars (Lepidoptera spp.), wasps (Hymenoptera), and leafhoppers (Cicadellidae) [1,19,43,62]. According to reviews, insects comprise more of the Bachman's sparrow diet in spring and fall than in winter [19,43,62]. Stomach contents of Bachman's sparrow collected in eastern Texas in summer (n=5) and fall (n=11) had a greater abundance of insects than those collected in winter (n=4) [1].

Data demonstrating which species prey on Bachman's sparrow are lacking. However short-tailed hawks (Buteo brachyurus) [48] and possibly American kestrels (Falco sparverius) [14] prey on adult Bachman's sparrows. Species responsible for nest predation are not generally known [30,50]. Evidence in 2 studies suggest mammalian predators [30,63] and snakes eat Bachman's sparrow nestlings [30].

Bachman's sparrow nests are occasionally parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) [26,30]. In shortleaf and loblolly pine plantations of central Arkansas, 5% of 38 nest failures were due to brown-headed cowbird parasitism [30].

Status: Dunning [19] provides a review of Bachman's sparrow range expansion and contraction. The majority of the most recent decline occurred from the 1930s to the 1960s and is likely due to a decline in early successional habitat [18,19,65]. Data from the breeding bird survey suggest that Bachman's sparrow populations were declining in more areas of the southeast from 1966 to 1979 than from 1980 to 1996. From 1966 to 1996 significant declines were observed in coastal flatwoods (p=0.01), with an average annual decline of 3.7%, and in the upper coastal plain (p=0.05), with an average annual decline of 2.8% [56].

Timber Management: Management activities can have a large impact on Bachman sparrow populations. Less destructive site preparation techniques may allow for earlier colonization of clearcuts by Bachman's sparrow [18]. Due to the occurrence of Bachman's sparrows in mature pinelands and the ability of these areas to provide suitable habitat for the long term, Bachman's sparrows may benefit from long (≥ 70 years) harvest rotations [18,32,73]. Middle-aged pine stands can provide suitable habitat, if management promotes habitat characteristics required by Bachman's sparrows [18,28,35,66]. Planning the arrangement of management areas on the landscape level may allow for easier dispersal of Bachman's sparrows into newly-created habitat [16].

Bachman's sparrows have been observed in greater abundance in areas where the mid-story and/or canopy have been thinned compared to sites with dense mid-stories and/or canopies [7,12,72,73]. However, areas that are thinned do not necessarily provide good Bachman's sparrow habitat [52,53]. The Habitat characteristics section provides a summary of habitat features important to the Bachman's sparrow. For information regarding the use of fire in maintaining or creating Bachman's sparrow habitat see the Fire Effects and Use section.


SPECIES: Aimophila aestivalis


Jim Cox, Tall Timbers Research Station

Adult Bachman's sparrows are unlikely to suffer directly from fire. It is generally accepted that large, fast-moving fires can result in mortality, but birds typically have the mobility to avoid fire [11,15,42]. Mortality of adult Bachman's sparrows due to prescribed fire was not reported on 2 sites in South Carolina [57], on sites in Florida and North Carolina [20], nor on a site in southern Georgia [13]. In South Carolina, the survival rate of Bachman's sparrows from April 20th to July 26th in burned stands (0.78) was not statistically (p=0.58) different from Bachman sparrow's survival rate in stands that were not burned during this period (0.88) [57].

It is likely that eggs and young birds are much more vulnerable to fire. Although there were no data directly investigating Bachman's sparrow nest mortality due to fire as of 2006, literature reviews have used life history characteristics to speculate on possible effects of fire on nesting success and bird populations [15,42,54]. Since Bachman's sparrows nest on the ground, even low-severity surface fires during the breeding season could result in considerable nest mortality. However, the degree to which a population would be affected by fire would depend on several factors including occurrence of renesting, season of burn, fire interval, fire uniformity, and fire severity [15,42,54]. Since Bachman's sparrows renest and typically raise 2 broods per season (See the Breeding section), this may mitigate at least some of the impact a breeding-season fire would have on Bachman's sparrow productivity [42,54]. However, Bachman's sparrows appear to disperse from burned sites at least temporarily [13,57] and the effects of this on Bachman's sparrow reproduction have not been investigated. A review states that prescribed fires early in the breeding season may allow for later nesting attempts [9].

Much of the information regarding fire's effects on Bachman's sparrows and their habitat focuses on the influence of fire interval. There is less information regarding the impact of timing of fire and very little information regarding the effects of fire severity or site characteristics. As of 2006, very few studies compared Bachman's sparrow demographics on burned and unburned sites.

Frequent fire is important in maintaining Bachman's sparrow habitat. Reviews note the importance of fire in maintaining the ground cover required by Bachman's sparrow [19,21,52]. In glades of south-central Missouri, sites burned every 5 to 10 years had significantly more forb cover (p=0.0001) and less coniferous shrub, sapling and tree cover (p≤0.0003), as well as marginally less deciduous sapling cover (p=0.502) compared to unburned and less frequently burned sites [10]. In southern Florida, shrub cover was not significantly (p>0.05) different on burned sites and control sites a year after burning, suggesting that infrequent fires had short-term effects on vegetation [25]. Results of different methods of longleaf pine sandhill restoration in northern Florida led investigators to conclude that mechanical removal and herbicides without frequent (1-5 yr) burning would be unlikely to maintain Bachman sparrow habitat [53].

Site conditions can influence the effect frequent fires have on habitat. For instance no significant (p>0.05) differences in vegetation characteristics were observed between recently (1-3 yrs) and not recently (4-5 yr) burned sites in mid-aged (24-40 years) loblolly pine stands in Georgia. However, in mature stands (40-100 years) many vegetation characteristics of recently burned sites, such as volume of vegetation at varying layers above ground and forb, grass, and tree/shrub volumes, differed significantly (p≤0.02) from sites that had not been recently burned [28]. The return of Bachman sparrows to an old-growth longleaf pine site in Georgia after a prescribed burn during the growing season was attributed in part to the quick recovery (4-6 weeks) of the fire-adapted vegetation, such as threeawn, present on the site [13]. A review also notes the influence the quick recovery of threeawn could have on Bachman's sparrow reproduction [9].

Bachman's sparrows have repeatedly been shown to occur in greater abundance in areas that are frequently burned. In 17- to 28-year-old slash pine plantations in northwest Florida, sites burned 1-2 times in the previous 4 years had significantly (p=0.006) higher relative abundance of Bachman's sparrows than similar sites that had not been burned [66]. In mature pine sites in Georgia, Bachman's sparrow relative abundance on burned sites (0.88 detections/count/site) was significantly (p<0.05) greater than on unburned sites (0.04 detections/count/site) [71]. In the glades of south-central Missouri, Bachman's sparrow abundance was significantly (p=0.0404) greater on sites burned every 5 to 10 years than sites that were not burned or that were burned less frequently [10]. In mature (40-100 years) loblolly pine stands of central Georgia, mean Bachman's sparrow densities were significantly (p=0.044) higher in recently (1-3 years) burned stands than in stands that had not been burned for 4-5 years [28]. In longleaf pine forest in Alabama and Florida, Bachman sparrow density was significantly (p=0.033) greater on sites burned ≤3 years ago than sites burned ≥4 years ago [67].

Bachman's sparrow numbers typically begin to decline 3 to 5 years after fire. Despite being present in the 2 years following fire, Bachman's sparrow was absent on a site 3 years after the initiation of fire exclusion in an old-field pineland in Florida [22]. In pole stage (11-15 years) slash pine stands of southeastern Georgia, Bachman's sparrows were common on sites that had been burned 1 to 2 years previously, but were rare or absent in areas that had been burned ≥3 years previously [35]. On a study site in South Carolina, it was estimated that the understory was not suitable for Bachman's sparrows by 4 to 5 years after burning [18]. In areas managed for the red-cockaded woodpecker of northwestern Florida, comparisons of habitat characteristics in sites occupied and unoccupied by Bachman's sparrows led to a recommendation of burning every 3 to 5 years to enhance the quality of the habitat for Bachman's sparrows [52]. In dry prairie sites of central Florida burned 6 months, 1.5 years, and 2.5 years previously, density of Bachman's sparrows (p=0.561) and a categorical measure (territory, paring, young) of breeding success did not differ significantly (p=0.421) [60].

Although more research is need, initial investigations suggest that fires during the growing season do not have substantial negative impacts on Bachman's sparrows. In longleaf or longleaf-loblolly pine stands in South Carolina, survival of Bachman's sparrows from 20 April to 26 July was not significantly (p=0.58) different between unburned sites and sites that were burned in early May or mid- to late June [57]. In a study limited by the small number of Bachman's sparrows detected, abundance on plots burned in the growing season was not significantly (p=0.16) different than on plots burned in the dormant season [36]. Bachman's sparrow density was not significantly affected by season of last burn in longleaf pine forests in Alabama and Florida in either 1999 (p=0.762) or 2000 (p=0.683). However, most stands had burn histories that included both summer and winter fires [67]. Bachman's sparrow abundance and frequency of occurrence were lower on former dry prairie sites in Florida that were burned in summer than sites burned in winter, but were higher than on unburned sites [25]. No significant (p=0.74) differences in Bachman's sparrow abundance between plots burned in the dormant season and those burned in the growing-season were detected in a longleaf pine-threeawn community of north-central Florida. The following table shows the average number of Bachman's sparrows on 4, 30-acre (12 ha) plots burned in the dormant season and 4, 30-acre (12 ha) plots burned in the growing season [20].

Dormant season plots Growing season plots
1.25 3.25 2.0 3.5 3.5 3.0 2.25 2.75

Available information suggests that Bachman's sparrows disperse from sites burned in the growing season. Seven of ten radio-marked Bachman's sparrows dispersed within 3 days of growing season burns in longleaf or longleaf-loblolly pine stands in South Carolina. In one stand most birds relocated to an adjacent unburned stand, while Bachman's sparrows in the other stand moved much further. No Bachman's sparrows were present in burned areas from 3 days after the fire, which was significantly (p<0.05) lower than Bachman's sparrow densities on the sites before burning. Initial recolonization of burned areas began from 50 to 100 days following fire [57]. Bachman's sparrows dispersed from an old-growth longleaf pine site in Georgia soon after a prescribed fire in late May. They began to recolonize the area within 6 weeks of the fire, when vegetation was 2 to 3 feet (0.6-0.9 m) tall. After recovery of the vegetation, territory size of males in the burned area was similar to those outside the burned area, but renesting was not observed in the burned area. However, Bachman's sparrows with fledged young in adjacent habitat used the burned area and young Bachman's sparrows used the burned area extensively, suggesting the site provided good postbreeding habitat [13].

Timing of burning within the breeding cycle is likely to influence the impact a growing season fire will have on Bachman's sparrow. A review suggests that burning earlier in the breeding cycle provides more time for vegetation to recover, which may allow for Bachman's sparrows to renest on the site [9]. Tucker and others [67] suggest that fires in late April and early May could result in large negative impacts on Bachman's sparrow reproductive output due to the destruction of nests during the late nestling to early fledging stages of the 1st nest cycle.

The context of a burn on the landscape scale is likely to impact Bachman's sparrows' response to a fire. The different responses of Bachman's sparrows on 2 stands in South Carolina suggest that the presence of Bachman's sparrow habitat adjacent to a burn could result in lower dispersal-related mortality and a smaller overall impact on reproductive output. The researchers suggest planning burns spatially to minimize dispersal distances and/or provide corridors between suitable habitat patches [57]. Lyon and others[41] provide a review of landscape factors in regards to fire's effects on wildlife.

Many Bachman's sparrow food sources appear to increase after fire. In a longleaf pine-threeawn-western bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) forest of Georgia, sites that were annually burned (>3 years) had higher total seed production than sites that were burned 2 or 3 years previously [6]. In addition, reviews note increases in seed production after fire in southern forests [15,40]. Fire's effects on arthropods have also been summarized in reviews [40,54,64].

Fire ecology: Reviews of fire ecology in southeastern pine savannas are provided by [23,51], while Van Lear and others [68] review fire ecology and restoration requirements of the longleaf pine-grassland ecosystem.

The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where Bachman's sparrow may occur. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.

Community or ecosystem Dominant species Fire return interval range (years)
cedar glades Juniperus virginiana 3-22 [29,49]
slash pine Pinus elliottii 3-8
sand pine Pinus elliottii var. elliottii 25-45 [69]
South Florida slash pine Pinus elliottii var. densa 1-15 [46,61,69]
longleaf-slash pine Pinus palustris-P. elliottii 1-4 [46,69]
longleaf pine-scrub oak Pinus palustris-Quercus spp. 6-10
pocosin Pinus serotina 3-8
loblolly pine Pinus taeda 3-8
loblolly-shortleaf pine Pinus taeda-P. echinata 10 to <35
Virginia pine Pinus virginiana 10 to <35
southeastern oak-pine Quercus-Pinus spp. <10 [69]
cabbage palmetto-slash pine Sabal palmetto-Pinus elliottii <10 [46,69]

Frequent fires are an integral component of Bachman's sparrow habitat management. A fire interval of approximately ≤5 years is required for the maintenance of Bachman's sparrow habitat [18,22,52,67]. Site conditions, such as overstory cover and species composition, are likely to influence the length of the fire interval necessary to maintain Bachman's sparrow habitat. In areas where mid-story establishment occurs quickly, a shorter fire interval will likely be more effective than a longer interval in providing the habitat characteristics required by Bachman's sparrows [28]. In areas with small amounts of fuel in the understory or large hardwoods, mid-story removal will likely be necessary before burning will be an effective tool for creating Bachman's sparrow habitat [52].

More research on season of burning in Bachman's sparrow habitat is necessary. Plentovich and others [52] summarize information demonstrating that growing-season burns are better than dormant-season burns at producing habitat characteristics important to Bachman's sparrows. Current evidence suggests that Bachman's sparrows are not substantially negatively impacted by growing-season burns [20,57]. In addition, there is limited evidence that growing-season burns provide good postbreeding habitat [13]. However, there is a lack of information addressing the impact of repeated growing-season fires on Bachman's sparrow demographics and the influence of time of burn within the Bachman's sparrow's breeding cycle [67]. King and others [36] suggest using both dormant- and growing-season burns to provide a mosaic of habitats for avian communities of west-central Georgia.

Given the likely importance of landscape factors on Bachman's sparrows (see Landscape Level Effects), planning burns spatially to minimize dispersal distances or provide dispersal corridors is likely to minimize the impacts of burning on Bachman's sparrow [57]

Fire's effect on food sources (Food Habits) [6,15,40] and nest parasites (Predators) [10] should also be considered when considering the impact of fire in potential or occupied Bachman's sparrow habitat.

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