Date of Award
Level of Access
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Wildlife Ecology and Wildlife Conservation
Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr.
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
River-associated birds may be valuable indicators of environmental change in riverine ecosystems because they are predators of fishes and therefore often top predators in the aquatic food web. To evaluate the likely scope of one form of change - river restoration through dam removal and the expected return of abundant diadromous fish prey- we: 1) developed an appropriate river bird survey protocol; 2) documented the relative importance of sea-run fish in the diet of four river bird species, bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), osprey (Pandion haliaetus), belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), and tree swallow (Tachycineta bicolor); 3) documented nest distribution and brood size of osprey; and 4) investigated the relationships between river bird abundance and various habitat parameters. We expect these measures will reflect changes to the river system post-dam removal as diadromous fish populations recover, proliferate, and integrate into the food web. Based on species accumulation curves and first-order Jacknifes, we concluded that biweekly or triweekly 15 minute surveys are sufficient to meet our objectives. Within the Penobscot River, stable isotope analysis of river bird diets indicated that marine nutrients are consumed by bald eagle, osprey, and belted kingfishers that reside below the lowermost dam, but not tree swallows. Despite greater connectivity for and abundance of spawning diadromous fishes (particularly river herring), in the Kennebec and Sebasticook Rivers as compare to the Penobscot River, osprey brood size was not significantly larger. We suspect other factors such as competition with bald eagles may be limiting the benefit of large river herring runs to nesting osprey. Finally, an ordination of 26 river bird species and 5 single-species (invertivore - spotted sandpiper, piscivore - osprey; piscivore - bald eagle; insectivore - tree Swallow; and omnivore - American black duck) generalized linear models, I revealed associations between estimated species abundance and water flow, water level, distance from the river mouth (river kilometer), site position in relation to a dam (e.g. above, below, or not at a dam), and adjacent land cover composition.
Call, Erynn, "River Birds as Indicators of Change in Riverine Ecosystems" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2317.