Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Urban Sprawl Forcing Pacific Northwest Songbirds To 'Divorce'

John Marzluff
University of Washington -
Development is forcing the Pacific wren and other song bird species to move away from urban areas like Seattle.

Urban development is encroaching on forests and impacting the love lives of some songbirds in the Pacific Northwest.

The Pacific wren is having a tough time staying faithful -- at least in Seattle. That’s because a housing boom is taking over the wren’s habitat: the thick forest understory

“I really think it’s just the fact that we really kind of pull the rug out from underneath these birds,” said John Marzluff, a Wildlife Science Professor at the University of Washington.

Marzluff said development is forcing the wren and other song bird species to move. And when that wren moves, it also abandons its mate.

Marzluff’s decade-long study, funded by UW and the National Science Foundation, looks at six species in landscapes undergoing various levels of development.

“if you don’t go out for many years and follow individually marked birds, you’ll never really understand how nesting success over an animal’s lifetime or their strategies of moving and divorcing or finding new partners and places plays out over their lifetime,” Marzluff said.

The birds most impacted by urban sprawl are known as “avoiders.” But some birds aren’t as heavily impacted – they’re called “exploiters” and “adapters.” They include species like crows and sparrows.

Even so, Marzluff says maintaining urban forests will help even the smallest bird species thrive in cities.

“These are not huge areas in the suburban matrix,” he said. “They’re areas of 30 to 150 acres and they are relatively easy to set aside for birds like this.”

The study showed that even after birds reestablish themselves, they still have a hard time laying eggs and rearing chicks. Some might argue it’s love gone fowl.