Scarlet tanager

Forest Interior Habitat: A Haven for Songbirds and Eastern Box Turtles

Part of a series on CILTI’s conservation targets by guest blogger Ed Pope

Although most of Indiana was wooded when Europeans first arrived, forest interior habitat is very rare today. Most forested land was cleared for farming, and while small woods can be found on many farms, there are very few large unbroken tracts of forest remaining.

Such fragmentation is problematic for wildlife. Genetic diversity can become quite limited if animals are confined in a small forest. This poses a major problem for the Eastern box turtle, which cannot travel long distances over open ground.

Parasitism and predation are two more “edge effects.” Numerous songbird species are declining due to parasitic cowbirds. Cowbirds do not raise their own young. Instead, they lay an egg in a songbird nest. When the cowbird chick hatches, it grows faster than the other chicks, and starts pushing them out of the nest. Instead of raising their own offspring, the songbirds end up raising one cowbird.

Raccoons often raid songbird nests, especially those of species which build their nests at relatively low heights. Cowbirds and raccoons tend to stay on the forest edges, so interior habitat gives songbirds a more protected place, where they have better success raising their young.

Some plants also fare much better in forest interior habitat, which tends to be wetter, cooler and less windy, undergoing less seasonal change than forest edges.

The core conservation areas in our strategic conservation plan include six with forest interior habitat:

All of these areas contain portions that are currently protected. CILTI’s plan is to buffer, enlarge and restore the forest blocks. See our Million Tree Initiative for more details.


Ed Pope

Guest Blogger

Ed Pope is a retired engineer from Rolls-Royce and a CILTI member since 2002.