Tag Archives: migratory bid

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!

 

Winter Birds: The Northeast is Actually South for Some Species

Today we are hearing from Division of Migratory Birds volunteer Lee Halasz.

Today we are hearing from Division of Migratory Birds volunteer Lee Halasz.

The Northeastern U.S. experiences large seasonal differences in temperature, and has among the most marked seasonality in the world. The four distinct seasons that we enjoy provide opportunities for a great diversity of bird life to thrive here. Some birds are residents and live in the northeast all year round. Common resident birds include chickadees, northern cardinals, blue jays and house sparrows.

However, most species that occur in the northeast are not residents and only spend a season or two locally. These birds are called migrants and live a good portion of the year somewhere else. For example, in late spring and summer there are a whole range of birds in the northeast that you will not see at other times of the year, such as hummingbirds, swallows, catbirds and warblers. During winter these birds are typically found in the southern U.S., and Central and South America.

There are many duck species that spend the warmer months breeding in northern Canada and beyond, which migrate south to be in the northeast during winter. Species like common goldeneye and ring-necked duck will only be found in the northeast in the colder months. During a winter walk along the coast you may see large ‘rafts’ of ducks bobbing and diving in the swell, including scoters, mergansers, eider and scaup.

Raft of Surf Scoters

Raft of Surf Scoters, Andrew Reding

For many duck species it is here in a northeast winter that pair bonding and mating occurs. Later, when waters in the far north of the continent begin to thaw, they fly north to lay their eggs and raise ducklings.

There are many other birds which spend the warmer months breeding in the tundra or boreal forests of the north, and are only seen locally when they come south in the colder months.

Snowy Owl, David Mitchell

Snowy Owl, David Mitchell

During the 2013-2014 winter, snowy owls irrupted spectacularly and could be readily seen during the day in many coastal areas of the northeast. The large numbers of this huge owl really captivated people.

Dark-eyed juncos, small boldly marked gray and white birds, are also called snowbirds by some, as their arrival at a bird feeder is one of the prominent signs that winter is on the way. Their reappearance is often announced with “Oh, no, the juncos are back”.

Winter also brings large numbers of gulls to parking lots and garbage dumps. These birds make a living finding food that is dropped or inappropriately disposed of. They have adapted to this new food source and have found a place to be during the colder months.

In late winter, early returning summer migrants like red-winged blackbirds reappear, bringing hope that the end of winter is near. Though there is often some waiting yet…

Graduate students employed in the SHARP program, from from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the University of Maine. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Birdseye View: Avian Science meets Hurricane Recovery

Tagging red knots on Cape Cod. The yellow tag is a geo-locator; the lime green alphanumeric flag means it was banded in the U.S. Credit: USFWS

Tagging red knots on Cape Cod. The yellow tag is a geo-locator; the lime green alphanumeric flag means it was banded in the U.S. Credit: USFWS

While the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to respond to damage from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy—clearing out wind-felled timber or hauling hundreds of tons of debris out of coastal salt marsh—the agency is also using science to assess the full scope of the storm’s ecological impact and establish a baseline for future conservation efforts. Some Service research that’s been integral to Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience efforts is already visible in projects like the recently completed beach restorations along New Jersey’s Delaware Bay. This region has long been seen as indispensable to migrating shorebirds like the red knot, whose eastern population has plummeted 80 percent in the past decade.

While many of the most impacted bird species are shorebirds, studies by the Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program (SHARP), a collaborative effort between the Fish and Wildlife Service and several other academic, governmental, and privately funded partners, are focused more on marsh birds such as the seaside sparrow, the willet and the clapper rail. According to Randy Dettmers, a senior biologist with the Service, one project funded under the Hurricane Sandy umbrella (and preceded by supporting SHARP research) has targeted more than 1,700 observation points across tidal marshes from Maine to Virginia for post-Sandy monitoring of migratory bird populations.

Survey regions for USFWS/SHARP Tidal Marsh Bird monitoring.

Survey regions for USFWS/SHARP Tidal Marsh Bird monitoring.

Partners in the SHARP collaboration include the Universities of Maine, Delaware, New Hampshire, Connecticut and State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry, as well as the Audubon Society, the National Park Service, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife and many other state- and regionally based organizations. The program also employs dozens of graduate and undergraduate students who collect abundance, breeding and survival data by monitoring these sites and banding birds.

Student participants in the SHARP program, Left to Right: Chris Field, Univerity of Connecticut; Alison R. Kocek, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; Mo Correll and Meaghan Conway, University of Maine. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Student participants in the SHARP program, Left to Right: Chris Field, Univerity of Connecticut; Alison R. Kocek, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; Mo Correll and Meaghan Conway, University of Maine. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Another Sandy-funded project launched by Dettmers and Service colleagues Chris Dwyer and Scott Johnston examines the prevalence and distribution of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)—coastal plants that grow beneath the waterline and are primary food sources for wintering waterfowl, including the priority species Atlantic brant and American black duck. Studies of SAV in the wake of an intense storm like Sandy, Dettmers says, will provide an excellent picture of “how much of [the vegetation] is vulnerable to climate change impacts from sea-level rise and future major storm events and what the resulting impacts on wintering waterfowl populations are likely to be.”

American black ducklings nesting in coastal marsh. Credit: Peter McGowan/USFWS

American black ducklings nesting in coastal marsh. Credit: Peter McGowan/USFWS

Dettmers says the effects of predicted climate change will be increasingly challenging for coastal habitat and the species that depend on it. He expects that future storms and sea level rise will likely impact beach and tidal marsh habitats, affecting birds’ ability to find food and suitable nesting places, and that ultimately this may result in reduced bird populations.

“Species like the saltmarsh sparrow and seaside sparrow are endemic to the Atlantic coast marshes of North America,” he says.  “They don’t occur anywhere else in the world, and they’re highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and major storm impacts such as are expected from climate change. If tidal marshes in this part of the world are lost, we’ll lose those species as well.”

He adds that beach-dependent species like the red knot—already a candidate for threatened status under the Endangered Species Act because of other threats to its population—“will only be pushed further toward the endangered end of the conservation concern spectrum” if the loss of coastal habitat can’t be somehow stabilized.


 

A clapper rail chick. Credit: Don Freiday/USFWS

A clapper rail chick. Credit: Don Freiday/USFWS

To read more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Birds program, click here. To read more about the SHARP program and its constituent collaborating agencies and institutions, click here.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to repair and restore public lands on the Atlantic coast since Hurricane Sandy impacted them in October of 2012. To learn more about the Service’s ongoing efforts to facilitate habitat recovery and build coastal resilience that helps protect communities, please visit www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy.