Origin and Availability of Large Cavities for Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), a Species at Risk

Vaillancourt, Marie-Andrée
Gauthier, Sylvie
Université du Québec à Montréal,
Canadian Wildlife Service
Natural Resources Canada
Publication Date: 

Large secondary-nesting birds such as ducks rely on appropriate cavities for breeding. The main objective of this study was to assess the availability of large cavities and the potential of a managed boreal coniferous landscape to provide nesting trees within the breeding area of the eastern population of Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), a cavity-nesting species at risk in Canada. Woodpecker surveys were conducted in both conifer and mixed-wood landscapes, and cavities were sought in line transects distributed in unharvested and linear remnant stands of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and black spruce (Picea mariana) as well as in cutblocks. No Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) were detected in the breeding area of Barrow’s Goldeneye, but the species was present in the nearby lowland area in which trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) is abundant. Only 10 trees (0.2% of those sampled) supported cavities considered suitable for Barrow’s Goldeneye in terms of dimensions and canopy openness. Most of the suitable cavities found during this study were nonexcavated apical (chimney) cavities in relatively short snags that showed advanced states of decay. A diameter-at-breast-height threshold was determined for each tree species, after which the probability of cavity occurrence was enhanced in terms of potential cavity trees for Barrow’s Goldeneye. Remnant linear forest sites had lower potential tree densities than did their unharvested equivalents. Large cavities were thus a rare component in this boreal landscape, suggesting that they may be a limiting factor for this population at risk. Current even-aged forest management that mainly relies on clear-cut practices is likely to further reduce the potential of this landscape to provide trees with suitable cavities.