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In general, each species of bird occurs only within certain types of habitat. And each plant community - whether abandoned field, mixed deciduous/coniferous forest, desert, or freshwater marsh, for instance - contains its own predictable assortment of birds. Learn which birds to expect in each habitat. You may be able to identify an unfamiliar bird by eliminating from consideration species that usually live in other habitats. (Be aware, though, that during spring and fall migration birds often settle down when they get tired and hungry, regardless of habitat.)

Below are some common birds of common plant communities. As you'll see, bird groups such as sparrows, wrens, hawks, and warblers are common to each community, but the actual species differ depending on the habitat.


Abandoned Field

Agricultural fields no longer used for farming form an "old field" habitat as they slowly revert to forest. In the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states, the original grasses are replaced with plants such as goldenrod, mullein, asters, and brambles (blackberry). Thickets of woody shrubs - such as honeysuckle and multiflora rose - develop, mixed with small trees such as red cedar, black locust and hawthorn. Birds found there include Field Sparrow, House Wren, Red-tailed Hawk, and Blue-winged Warbler.


Mixed Deciduous / Coniferous Forest

In a broad band stretching from the Great Lakes region eastward to New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, the southern deciduous woodlands and the coniferous forests of the north meet and intermingle. There broad-leafed trees such as oaks, hickories, beeches, and maples mix with conifers such as spruces, firs, and hemlocks. Birds that live there include Winter Wren, Northern Goshawk, White-throated Sparrow, and Black-throated Green Warbler.


Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert is a hot, dry region covering 120,000 square miles in southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, as well as most of Baja California and the western half of the state of Sonora, Mexico. Tall saguaro cactus and spiny cholla cactus are common, mixed with trees such as ironwoods and palo verdes, and shrubs such as saltbush, creosote bush, and mesquite. Black-throated Sparrow, Cactus Wren, Harris's Hawk, and Lucy's Warbler can be found there.


Freshwater Marsh

A freshwater marsh is a treeless wetland whose shallow water supports dense stands of mostly emergent plants (rooted in mud but with most of their foliage above water). Marshes are found throughout North America, often forming when ponds and shallow lakes fill in, although beavers may also play an important role in their formation. Typical vegetation includes cattails, bulrushes, sedges and reeds. In deeper pools submerged and floating aquatic plants occur, including water lilies, pondweed, arrowhead, duckweed, smartweed, bladderwort, pickerel-weed, water-shield, and sweet flag. Bands of shrubs such as alder and willow occur at drier marsh edges. Swamp Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Marsh Wren, and Common Yellowthroat are typical residents.