Student Research Projects

Impact of Urbanization on Salt Marsh Bird Abundance

Student Ryan Helms ‘16 (Biology)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Biology
Course Biology 489: Research in the Natural Sciences


Urbanization adjacent to salt marshes can have an impact on organisms living within them, due to a variety of pollutants, habitat destruction, increase in predation, and the effects of noise. Our study focused on the effects of development along the perimeter of salt marshes, which may limit food sources for birds, decrease the availability of nest sites, and shift behavioral patterns. For this study we used Google Earth to quantify the percent of the perimeter that was developed (within 10 meters of the marsh) for 24 marsh sites in the Lynnhaven River Estuary. We also measured the percent of the marsh perimeter that was completely destroyed by structures such as marinas, docks, bulkheads, etc. We found that 7 of the 19 abundant bird species had an increase in population with increasing urbanization (such as the Barn Swallow and Laughing Gull). We also observed that 1 of these species (Clapper Rail) had a strong and significant decrease in population as urbanization increased. The remaining species of birds were not significantly impacted by urbanization. Overall there was an increase in the total bird abundance in highly developed sites, but we saw no significant changes in the bird species richness. Our results suggest that some birds are becoming accustomed to urbanization, and that birds that are adapted to living in urbanized places thrive better than those that are sensitive to urbanization.