Tag Archives: bird monitoring

Calling All Birdwatchers: For the Birds, and for Us

Imagine knowing the abundance, distribution, habitat preferences, breeding ecology, migration pattern, and wintering habitat for 100+ bird species in the State of Connecticut. This is no simple task, but it is one that the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, along with many other partner organizations, citizen scientists, and bird lovers alike are willing to take on. The Connecticut Bird Atlas, starting in Spring 2018, will be the second such atlas conducted in the state, with the first Atlas of Breeding Birds in Connecticut published in 1994.

The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migratory species, was identified as a “Forest Health Indicator Species” by the Connecticut Forestlands Council Forest Ecosystem Health Committee for deciduous woodlands.

Unlike the first Connecticut Breeding Bird Atlas which aimed only to identify breeding distributions of Connecticut’s birds, the new study will survey distribution and abundance patterns throughout year, during both the breeding and non-breeding seasons. “The assessment will give us more detailed ecological information in terms of breeding dates, timing of migration, when wintering species arrive to overwintering areas, and how long they stay in overwintering areas,” says Randy Dettmers, senior migratory bird biologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service division of Migratory Birds, and contributor to the Connecticut State of the Birds.

Almost three decades since the first Atlas, the habitat for birds in Connecticut has changed significantly. Development and expanding infrastructure have fragmented habitats, a benefit to birds who are habitat generalists but a detrimental change for species that require large areas of undisturbed forest; reforestation of previously developed land has benefited birds that use both mixed hardwood and coniferous forest, but presents challenges for birds that rely on early successional habitats (young forests); loss or conversion of agricultural lands has negatively impacted birds that prefer the old agricultural fields or grasslands but benefit birds who prefer forested habitat; and more variable climate conditions have resulted in birds with a historically “southern” range to now reside in Connecticut year-round. The new Atlas will capture the changes in abundance, distribution, and species composition as a result of these habitat changes, and the data will have implications for creating sound conservation plans, including the Connecticut State Wildlife Action Plan, that will benefit birds and other wildlife.

Zone land cover change in Connecticut from 1985-2010.

Birds are an indicator species for the health of our environment, meaning the presence, abundance, or absence of birds is indicative of a change in the biological health of an ecosystem.

Birds make an excellent proxy for diagnosing the health of an ecosystem which includes birds, other wildlife, and people. They serve as an indicator for how we are adapting or not adapting to the changing landscape and changing climate, making the new Atlas an essential decision-making tool for land managers, municipal planners, developers, state and federal agencies, and conservationists alike.

The cerulean warbler was identified as a “Forest Health Indicator Species” by the Connecticut Forestlands Council Forest Ecosystem Health Committee for deciduous woodlands. Among the rarest Neotropical migrant songbirds, their populations continue to decline due to loss of breeding, migrating, and overwintering habitat.

As often stated, birds do not recognize boundaries, and can be thought of as having dual citizenship. Therefore, the new Atlas will not only provide important implications for the state of Connecticut, but will be used to develop and implement comprehensive, region-wide conservation management strategies. “The updated information from the new Atlas will help us understand how different bird species are shifting their distributions and abundance in southern New England,” says Randy Dettmers. “When comparing the data to information from surrounding states, we will gain a better understanding of how birds are responding to larger environmental changes, including changes in land use, levels of contaminants in the environment, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns.”

The golden-winged warbler was identified as a “Forest Health Indicator Species” by the Connecticut Forestlands Council Forest Ecosystem Health Committee for shrubland and young forest habitats. Populations are declining due to loss of breeding and wintering habitat.

Without citizen science, scientists would not be able to collect the necessary data to accomplish the task at hand.

The CT Bird Atlas project will be accomplished through the collaborative work of professionals and citizen scientists. Interested in taking advantage of this opportunity to learn about birds and their habitats, gain science skills, and connect with nature while giving back? Check out the CT Bird Atlas website here to see how you can get involved!

 

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches high school girls about bird conservation techniquest at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working on conservation of neotropical migrant bird populations for 20 years. Several times a year, Dettmers and Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist, teach youth and adults about wildlife techniques to conserve bird populations. Last month, they led nine girls on an hour-long workshop teaching avian wildlife conservation skills including “mist-netting” birds to capture and band them, in support of research and monitoring efforts.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute's Young Women in Science program.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute’s Young Women in Science program. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

The ninth through eleventh graders were attending a week-long science camp themed “Young Women in Science” through Flying Cloud Institute. The students came from schools in Massachusetts and New York including: Great Barrington (Monument Mountain Regional High School), Sheffield (Mount Everett Regional High School), Lee (Lee Middle and High School), Pittsfield (Miss Hall’s, a private school)and one from Hawthorne Valley, a private Waldorf school in Hillsdale, New York. Here are Dettmers’ field notes from the training experience:

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches young high school students avian conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge this past summer.

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pictured far right), teaches young high school students about bird conservation techniques at Conte Refuge this past summer. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

On a sunny summer day at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort River in Hadley, Massachusetts, myself and fellow wildlife biologist Mitch Hartley led nine girls from the Flying Cloud Institute under instructor Susan Cooper into the 260 acres of grasslands and forest of a former dairy farm. Our goal was to introduce these curious students to the skills of safely capturing birds to record data that will be used later to understand bird movements, survival rates, and life histories. Fortunately, we were able to lure and capture two birds in the nets by playing a series of bird calls by portable speaker nearby — which attracted a mature female yellow warbler and black-capped chickadee, common species native to the area. We then showed the girls how to measure and record necessary data on each bird, attaching bands to their legs, and allowed the students to release them back into their natural habitat.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers shows bird age identification techniques to high school girls from the Flying Cloud Institute at Conte Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers demonstrates bird monitoring techniques to high school girls at Conte Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Within the Service, the Migratory Bird Program works to track the status of migratory birds, identify species in need of conservation attention, and coordinate actions to protect and restore those species.  Banding and other monitoring techniques are important tools for understanding the population trends and status of migratory birds.  It is always valuable to share this part of our work with young biologists so that they can see, first-hand, what this work entails and have opportunities for direct interaction with some of the wildlife we strive to conserve for the benefit of the American people.  Making those connections is an important part of what we do, and we are always looking for opportunities to provide demonstrations or talk about what we do, whether it be talking to early elementary school groups about how birds build nests and why robins eat worms, to banding demonstrations such as with this high school group, or teaching bird monitoring techniques as part of college courses.  Reaching out to these different groups of young people to share the work we do and why we do it helps the next generation to understand that there are science-based career options in wildlife biology and conservation.

It’s exciting to share the field of wildlife biology with young minds, especially curious high school girls, showing them the tools we as biologists use for bird conservation such as mist netting, banding, taking measurements, and monitoring.  It’s rewarding to see the interest and enthusiasm they show when we take them into the field, handle equipment like mist nests, and give them an opportunity to hold a live bird.  It is a great experience for all of us.  – Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service