Saving Secretive Marsh Birds

Learn about secretive marsh birds and how we can improve their habitat on February 26, 2 p.m., Sherwood Regional Library, 2501 Sherwood Hall Lane, Alexandria (Mount Vernon area) 22306.

Some marsh birds, like the king rail, Virginia rail, sora, least bittern and American bittern are difficult to detect, often hidden in dense vegetation.  Wetland-dependent, marsh birds have adaptations like cryptically-colored plumage that helps them be secretive.  Secretive marsh birds are in decline across their range and are designated in need of conservation in most states. Because they are hard to find and see, there is relatively sparse information available on their ecology.

Patrice Nielson, a University of Maryland Ph. D. candidate and Northern Virginia resident, surveyed for secretive species at 51 points in 25 marshes in the Washington, D.C., area in 2013, 2014 and 2015.  She collected data on marsh area, buffer width, vegetation/water interspersion, vegetation characteristics, amount of flooding and invertebrate abundance at each point.  She modeled the presence of secretive marsh birds as a function of habitat characteristics.   Among many findings, she found that secretive marsh birds were using both restored and natural marshes, marshes with and without invasive plant species and marshes with a variety of dominant vegetation species. 

To help these birds, she maintains that decreasing woody vegetation, increasing tall vegetation cover and managing for a variety of co-dominant species to avoid monocultures would likely improve habitat for these wetland birds. 

This program is sponsored by the Friends of Dyke Marsh, ASNV, the Northern Virginia Bird Club and the Virginia Society of Ornithology.