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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Use prescribed burning on coastal habitats Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • Of three studies captured, one replicated, controlled, paired sites study from the USA found that there was a fall in breeding seaside sparrow numbers on a burned site in the year it was burned. The next year, numbers were higher than on an unburned site. A controlled study in Argentina found that tall-grass specialist species were lost from burned areas in the year of burning, but that some habitats recovered by the following year.
  • A replicated controlled study from the USA found no differences in nest predation rates between burned and unburned areas for two years after burning.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A replicated, controlled paired sites trial in 1996-1998 on a salt marsh in Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana, USA (Gabrey & Afton 2000), found that seaside sparrow Ammodramus maritimus numbers were lower on four burned plots than on unburned controls  in the breeding season after the burn (0-3 males/survey for burned areas vs. 7-12 for unburned). However, numbers were higher on burned plots the following year (16 males/survey vs. 8). Sparrow numbers were similar across plots in 1996, before burning, which occurred in 9-18 January 1997. Territorial male sparrows were recorded in April-July in 1996-1998 in each 250 x 250 m plot.



A controlled study on salt marsh at Mar Chiquita Biosphere Reserve, Chaco, Argentina (Isacch et al. 2004), found that during 12 months after prescribed burns, specialist grassland birds reliant on taller grassland were absent, whilst common widespread species remained. A 200 ha spring burn in September 1995 encompassed Spartina spp. marsh and Juncus spp. marsh and although Juncus marsh recovered pre-burn vegetation structure within a year, Spartina marsh had not recovered to its original condition (the vegetation was still short). The bird community and relative abundances of bird species using Juncus marsh a year after burning were similar to that in unburned areas, but bay-capped wren-spinetail Spartonoica maluroides was present within burned areas at lower abundance than unburned habitat.



A replicated, controlled study on Spartina marshland at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, Maryland, USA (Almario et al. 2009), found no significant difference in overall predation rates of seaside sparrow nests between three plots burned in January-March 2002-2003 and three plots last burned in 1994 (37-41% of 130 nests in burned areas predated vs. 27-43% of 112 in unburned areas). In 2002, but not 2003, predation rates in the incubation period were higher for burned areas (35% of 51 nests) than unburned areas (13% of 45).


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.