Although not explicitly managed for conservation, urban cemeteries may provide a reserve of dead and dying trees for cavity-nesting birds. However, the ability of urban cemeteries to support these birds on current landscapes is largely unknown. We surveyed cavity-nesting birds and their habitat in 18 cemeteries in Chicago, Illinois (USA). At each location, we examined vegetation, availability of gravestones and monuments for perches, and landscape-level environmental conditions. We tested the importance of these variables for presence of individual bird species, and for overall richness of native cavity-nesting birds. We also assessed the availability and characteristics of tree cavities and their distribution among different tree species. We found that most cemeteries contained at least one dead or dying tree. Across all sampled areas, we detected 207 naturally-occurring and 77 excavated tree cavities. Tree species generally supported cavities in proportion to their abundance. We observed 12 native and two non-native cavity-nesting bird species in the cemeteries. Cavity-nesting bird species richness was best explained by landscape-level variables such as canopy cover and distance to water, but local-level variables (e.g., number of graves in a 50 m radius) influenced habitat selection for some species. Based on our results, we make suggestions for how both existing cemeteries and new “green” cemeteries can support biodiversity conservation.
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