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Red Crossbill, percna subspecies

Critical Habitat

The term critical habitat is used in both the Species at Risk Act and the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act. The term has subtly different meanings in the two legislations. The Species at Risk Act has combined the critical and recovery habitat needs for a species under the critical habitat definition, whereas the Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act has maintained a distinction between the two requirements.

5.1 Identification of Critical Habitat

Critical habitat (Species at Risk Act) and recovery and critical habitat (Newfoundland and Labrador Endangered Species Act) (collectively referred to here as critical habitat) for the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies, cannot yet be described due to lack of knowledge regarding percna’s existence, insular distribution, and habitat associations. The status report describes the key habitat feature for Red Crossbills as a mosaic of conifer seed availability across the island, to provide numerous habitat areas and tree species with higher cone abundance during years when cone productivity fails in some areas (COSEWIC 2004). Literature reviews did not provide models for describing Red Crossbill critical habitat, other than providing basic descriptions of common habitat associations (Benkman 1993b; Summers and Proctor 1998; Parchman and Benkman 2002; COSEWIC 2004) and suggesting that a mosaic of conifer species may be important for seasonal and life history utilization (Marquiss and Rae 1994).

Studies of the distribution and habitats of European crossbills have indicated that some species are more frequently associated with one conifer than with others (Summers et al. 2002), as expected, based on different bill morphologies and cone variation (Benkman 1993a). Specific habitat associations and life history utilization across a range of habitats will have to be identified prior to describing critical habitat for percna. It is probable that critical habitat will not be spatially mapped, except if and when a nest is found. Rather, critical habitat will likely be managed at the landscape level by, for example, maintaining a percentage of the forest landscape with cone-bearing trees, which shifts spatially.

5.2 Schedule of Studies

Sufficient information/data are not currently available to allow the determination of critical habitat for percna. A schedule of studies with associated timelines is presented in Table 3, outlining the actions that need to be taken to identify critical habitat.


Table 3. Schedule of studies to identify the critical habitat of the Red Crossbill, percna subspecies
Study to be undertakenShould these actions be incorporated into the action plan?Specific stepsTimeline
Identify habitat associations and utilizationYesMap areas of conifer trees by species and age class2006
Annually determine cone productivity across the island by speciesCompleted annually
Map areas of Red Crossbill sightings and nesting recordsCompleted annually
Communicate with local birding communityOngoing
Develop bird survey protocols2006
Test protocol and conduct field surveys2006 onwards
Use bird surveys to indicate new search areas for Red Crossbills2007 onwards
Develop habitat modelsYesNeed to be outlined in action plans once habitat associations are identified; may be based on forest cover mapsBeginning 2006 and ongoing
Develop habitat modelsYesLiterature-based development of habitat model2006–07
Test model by incorporating Newfoundland data2007–08
Based on survey data and habitat model, determine how much habitat is needed to reach the recovery objective2009 onwards
Identify potential habitat threats, and assess impacts in each areaaYesAssess potential impacts of natural and anthropogenic factors outlined in section 2Beginning 2008 or at such time that sufficient information becomes available
Determine land ownershipNo 2006
Determine proper techniques for protectionYesTo be written into future action plans2010

a  Needs habitat association before work can be conducted on this project, with additional GIS layers that include squirrel distribution and potential limiting factors. Additionally, Red Crossbill behavioural reaction to threats would be beneficial, but it is unknown if this information can be collected.

5.2.1 Habitat Management

If it is demonstrated that habitat loss or degradation is contributing to the decline of percna, it will be vital that Red Crossbill habitat be identified and any disturbance to percna critical habitat reduced immediately to facilitate recovery. Sufficient habitat must be protected over the long term to increase the percna population in Newfoundland.

The percentage of provincially and federally protected land is 7.8% of the land and freshwater area of insular Newfoundland. Further to these areas already under protection, the status report (COSEWIC 2004) describes the Little Grand Lake Provisional Ecological Reserve in western Newfoundland, which is currently under consideration by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for permanent status, as potentially important habitat that could be secured and protected. Eastern white pine in Newfoundland already receive protection through a provincial natural resources forest policy issued in 1999 restricting its cutting, and few, if any, permits are issued for the harvest of red pine in the province (B. English, pers. comm. 2005). The Provincial Sustainable Forest Management Strategy issued in 2003 (Government of Newfoundland & Labrador 2003) also stresses that the protection of eastern white and red pine is important for the long-term conservation of biological diversity.

Critical habitat protection within Newfoundland may be pursued using several methods. The nature of this species includes fidelity to no specific location, but rather dispersal across the landscape in response to food availability. Therefore, philopatry cannot be a tool to determine areas of significance. One protection option is to maintain a mosaic of forest stand types across the landscape to ensure that adequate food resources continue to be available. A second approach would involve assigning specific habitat types and/or locations to be specifically protected for use by the Red Crossbills. However, at this time, there is insufficient information on the species to determine the variables needed to identify such sites.