(noun) The type of wildlife habitat found along the banks of a river, stream or other actively moving source of water such as a spring. Generally refers only to freshwater or mildly brackish habitats, not coastal shores or pelagic environments.
The Diversity of Riparian Habitats
Riparian habitats are ecologically diverse and may occur in a range of general habitat types, including damp grasslands, wetlands, marshes, forests, canyons, mountains and even along streams or springs in desert areas.
In the case of desert or drought-ridden habitats, riparian areas may be seasonal or temporary.
The primary characteristics of riparian areas are an active water source and the subsequent vegetation that relies on that water. Like a desert oasis, these areas can become very rich habitats, and are often home to a wide range of flora and fauna, easily meeting all of birds' needs, including:
- Food: Insects, amphibians, seeds, grain, fruits, berries, mollusks and many other food sources thrive in riparian areas, giving birds plenty of foraging options no matter what their diet type.
- Water: The essential water source that defines a riparian area is also a water source for birds. These areas are often more humid as a result, and damp soil and puddles are other useful water sources.
- Shelter: The dense growth and vegetation of a riparian area provide a good deal of shelter for birds, including thick grasses, shrubby thickets and larger trees. As moving water carves into the land, banks and niches can develop that will also shelter birds.
- Nesting Sites: Birds' nesting needs vary, but the diversity of a riparian zone is ideal for all types of nests, including cavities in decaying trees or dug out of stream banks, scrapes on shorelines or under brush or other types of nests.
A wide variety of birds can be found in riparian habitats.
The overall avifauna will vary depending on the exact type of habitat, and different birds will be found alongside a mountain stream compared to a grassland river. Birds that are frequently spotted in riparian habitats include finches, warblers, swallows, woodpeckers, flycatchers, thrushes, herons, rails, egrets, dippers and waterfowl.
Birding in Riparian Areas
Birding in these habitats can be very rewarding and productive. Birders should be prepared for the moisture and humidity of the area, using insecticide as needed and taking steps to protect gear from excessive moisture or spray from rapids or waterfalls. Proper footwear is essential for safe, comfortable footing, particularly close to the water where rocks or mud can be slippery. Because riparian habitats are generally more heavily vegetated, a spotting scope tends to be less useful than smaller binoculars. Tips for birding in the specific habitat should be considered, such as forest birding tips, mountain birding tips or wetland birding tips.
Depending on the type of water source, it may be possible to go birding by kayak or birding by boat in riparian areas.
Also Known As:
Riparian Zone, Riparian Area, Riparian Corridor
Photo – Forest Stream © Reza