U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



The Journal of Wildlife Management 79(6):1022–1033; 2015


Knowledge of factors influencing animal abundance is important to wildlife biologists developing management plans. This is especially true for economically important species such as blackbirds (Icteridae), which cause more than $100 million in crop damages annually in the United States. Using data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the National Land Cover Dataset, and the National Climatic Data Center, we modeled effects of regional environmental variables on relative abundance of 3 blackbird species (red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus; yellow-headed blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus; common grackle, Quiscalus quiscula) in the Prairie Pothole Region of the central United States. We evaluated landscape covariates at 3 logarithmically related spatial scales (1,000 ha, 10,000 ha, and 100,000 ha) and modeled weather variables at the 100,000-ha scale. We constructed models a priori using information from published habitat associations. We fit models with WinBUGS using Markov chain Monte Carlo techniques. Both landscape and weather variables contributed strongly to predicting blackbird relative abundance (95% credibility interval did not overlap 0). Variables with the strongest associations with blackbird relative abundance were the percentage of wetland area and precipitation amount from the year before bird surveys were conducted. The influence of spatial scale appeared small—models with the same variables expressed at different scales were often in the best model subset. This large-scale study elucidated regional effects of weather and landscape variables, suggesting that management strategies aimed at reducing damages caused by these species should consider the broader landscape, including weather effects, because such factors may outweigh the influence of localized conditions or site-specific management actions. The regional species distributional models we developed for blackbirds provide a tool for understanding these broader landscape effects and guiding wildlife management practices to areas that are optimally beneficial. Published 2015. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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