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Abstract

Virginia supports a diverse community of breeding birds that has been the focus of investigation for more than 400 years. The avifauna reflects the latitudinal position of the state and the fact that the border extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. A total of 224 species have been recorded breeding in Virginia, 214 of which are extant. Twenty species have colonized the state since 1900 including 14 since 1950. Of all extant species, 102 (48%) are considered common at least somewhere in the state and 64 (30%) are rare to very rare. Diversity varies by physiographic region with 179 (83%), 168 (78%) and 141 (66%) in the Coastal Plain, Mountains and Piedmont, respectively. Two significant landscape features make significant contributions to the state-wide diversity including tidal waters along the coast and isolated spruce-fir forests of the Appalachians that represent Pleistocene-era relicts. In all, nearly 25% of the state-wide avifauna is either wholly or nearly confined to tidal water and 10% is confined to “sky island” refugia.

Since 1978, 25 species of birds throughout Virginia have been identified as requiring immediate conservation action. A retrospective assessment shows that 5 of these species including osprey (Pandion haliaetus), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) and piping plover (Charadrius melodus) have recovered to or beyond historic numbers. Three species including Bewick’s wren (Thryomanes bewickii), Bachman’s sparrow (Peucaea aestivalis) and upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) have been lost from the state and the black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis), loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) and Henslow’s sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii ) are in imminent danger of extirpation. Several species including the peregrine falcon, piping plover, Wilson’s plover (Charadrius wilsonia) and red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) are the focus of intensive monitoring and management programs. The underlying causes of imperilment remain unclear for several species of concern, limiting our ability to development effective conservation strategies.

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