Is there a secret to restoring Louisiana’s coastline? Secretive marsh birds may reveal a clue

By Annabelle Lang

March 15, 2023

Researchers measure the water level at a created marsh site

Aylett Lipford, left, measures the water level at a create marsh site while Leah Moran anchors the boat to the bank. Both are graduate students in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources. Their data will be used to inform her if there is a correlation between water levels and marsh bird numbers.

– Photo by Annabelle Lang/LSU College of Agriculture

Researchers in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources are collecting data on secretive marsh birds to better estimate the bird population on the coast.

“Secretive marsh birds” is a collective term used to describe a species of wetland birds that live in dense vegetation.

Wetland wildlife ecologist and professor Andy Nyman and U.S. Geological Survey Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit leader Sammy King are leading the research, along with graduate students Leah Moran and Aylett Lipford.

Understanding the basic ecology of these birds and their population parameters may improve scientists' ability to predict impacts from oil spills and inform coastal restoration.

Nyman explains that the overall research project is to understand where different bird species most likely occur in the landscape. This ultimately helps restoration planners decide where to restore marsh and if a particular restoration design will make a difference in the birds that appear in the landscape.

King has worked closely with state agencies since the onset of the project to advise where and how to rebuild marshes.

"We've been working with engineers that are designing these restorations. Almost immediately a lot of these recommendations are getting added to some of the design considerations for the way they restore these sites," King said.

Nyman and King are working with professionals from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, The Water Institute and engineers in Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to develop a guidebook on coastal restoration for secretive marsh bird species. The living document provides them with technical guidance for features that may be important for some birds.

Read more about marsh bird research