Understanding the persistence mechanisms of tropical forest species in human-dominated land-scapes is a fundamental challenge of tropical ecology and conservation. Many species, including more than half of Costa Rica's native land birds, use mostly deforested agricultural countryside, but how they do so is poorly known. Do they commute regularly to forest or can some species survive in this human-dominated land-scape year-round? Using radiotelemetry, we detailed the habitat use, movement, foraging, and nesting patterns of three bird species, Catharus aurantiirostris, Tangara icterocephala, and Turdus assimilis, by obtaining 8101 locations from 156 individuals. We chose forest birds that varied in their vulnerability to deforestation and were representative of the species found both in forest and human-dominated landscapes. Our study species did not commute from extensive forest; rather, they fed and bred in the agricultural countryside. Nevertheless, T. icterocephala and T. assimilis, which are more habitat sensitive, were highly dependent on the remaining trees. Although trees constituted only 11% of land cover, these birds spent 69% to 85% of their time in them. Breeding success of C. aurantiirostris and T. icterocephala in deforested habitats was not different than in forest remnants, where T. assimilis experienced reduced breeding success. Although this suggests an ecological trap for T. assimilis, higher fledgling survival in forest remnants may make up for lower productivity. Tropical countryside has high potential conservation value, which can be enhanced with even modest increases in tree cover. Our findings have applicability to many human-dominated tropical areas that have the potential to conserve substantial biodiversity if appropriate restoration measures are taken.
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