News Birds and the bees thrive at Montague Plains WMA

A number of regional experts report a pronounced increase in the number of rare birds and insects at the site of intensive habitat restoration by MassWildlife.
  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

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Media Contact, MassWildlife

restored barrens habitat at montague plains wma

Over the past 20 years, MassWildlife has conducted a number of habitat management projects at Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Montague, MA. This location—a regionally and globally rare type of pine barrens habitat—was in need of restoration. Recent scientific monitoring conducted by MassWildlife and other experts confirms that the sustained and ongoing restoration effort is paying off for both rare wildlife and nature-lovers alike. Thanks to ongoing habitat management practices like tree cutting, mowing, and prescribed fire, Montague Plains now presents a unique opportunity for professional researchers, citizen scientists, volunteers, and the general public to experience imperiled habitats and the wildlife that live there. 

Native bees are important pollinators and many plants depend on bees for pollination. Both the number of bee species and the number of individual bees have increased in response to habitat management activities at Montague Plains. “In fact,” noted Dr. Joan Milam, a researcher from UMass Amherst, “more bee species have been found at Montague Plains than at any other site across the Commonwealth. Incredibly, more than 50% of all native bee species known in Massachusetts now occur at Montague Plains.” Butterflies and moths on the Massachusetts Endangered Species list have also responded positively to habitat management at the Plains, as have declining songbirds and native game birds like ruffed grouse and American woodcock. 

Prairie warblers and other native songbirds that use shrubland habitats are declining regionally, making sites like Montague Plains especially important for restoration. According to Environmental Researcher Mike Akresh from Antioch University New England, “Creating new areas of shrubland habitat with tree harvests at Montague Plains allows for young birds to colonize and breed because the thick shrub cover provides both protection from predators and a  thriving, protein-rich insect community to feed on.” U.S. Forest Service Researcher Dave King added that “Thinning canopy trees at this site provides habitat for high-priority shrubland birds such as the Eastern towhee and prairie warbler at the cost of modest reductions in numbers of forest birds whose regional aggregate population is large.” Both Dr. King and Dr. Akresh have documented positive responses to management at Montague Plains by the eastern whip-poor-will, a species of special concern in Massachusetts. “We have found that whip-poor-wills readily nest in open-canopy managed areas compared to closed-canopy unmanaged areas," said Dr. Akresh. Birders have also taken notice. MassAudubon leads birding trips to Montague Plains, which has become a hotspot with local birders, drawing crowds for irruptions of winter finches and annual late-spring pilgrimages to hear whip-poor-wills and woodcock at sunset.

Public recreational opportunities at Montague Plains include hunting, wildlife viewing, hiking, foraging, horseback riding, and more. Low-bush blueberry and other shrubs respond quickly to thinning of the forest canopy and removal of competing vegetation, producing abundant flowers for native pollinators and berries for wildlife and humans.


Media Contact for Birds and the bees thrive at Montague Plains WMA

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 

MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.

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