Evaluating bird population trends requires baseline data. In North America the earliest population data available are those from the late 1960s. Forest conditions in the northern Great Lake states (U.S.A.), however, have undergone succession since the region was originally cut over around the turn of the twentieth century, and it is expected that bird populations have undergone concomitant change. We propose pre-Euro- American settlement as an alternative baseline for assessing changes in bird populations. We evaluated the amount, quality, and distribution of breeding bird habitat during the mid-1800s and early 1990s for three forest birds: the Pine Warbler ( Dendroica pinus), Blackburnian Warbler ( D. fusca), and Black-throated Green Warbler ( D. virens). We constructed models of bird and habitat relationships based on literature review and regional data sets of bird abundance and applied these models to widely available vegetation data. Original public-land survey records represented historical habitat conditions, and a combination of forest inventory and national land-cover data represented current conditions. We assessed model robustness by comparing current habitat distribution to actual breeding bird locations from the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas. The model showed little change in the overall amount of Pine Warbler habitat, whereas both the Blackburnian Warber and the Black-throated Green Warbler have experienced substantial habitat losses. For the species we examined, habitat quality has degraded since presettlement and the spatial distribution of habitat shifted among ecoregions, with range expansion accompanying forest incursion into previously open habitats or the replacement of native forests with pine plantations. Sources of habitat loss and degradation include loss of conifers and loss of large trees. Using widely available data sources in a habitat suitability model framework, our method provides a long-term analysis of change in bird habitat and a presettlement baseline for assessing current conservation priority.
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