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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!