A year after being canceled due to the pandemic, the North American Breeding Bird Survey is back in 2021.
Over the next few months, around 2,200 observers will be surveying nearly 3,300 routes in the USA, Mexico and Canada. The program, which began in 1966, tracks the health of wild bird populations across the continent and is coordinated by the US Geological Survey, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Mexican National Commission on the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.
For more than half a century, survey results have helped land and resource managers understand the status and trends of more than 500 species of birds and provide a basis for management and conservation decisions. The survey is mainly carried out by volunteers or “citizen scientists” who are highly skilled in identifying and counting birds using images and sound.
The survey results were fundamental to recent findings that North America has lost nearly 3 billion birds over the past five decades. This study, co-authored by the USGS, found that there are 29% fewer birds in the US and Canada today than in 1970.
“The breeding bird survey has provided important insights into the health of North American birds over the past 54 years,” said Thomas O’Connell, director of the USGS Eastern Ecological Science Center. “The survey is conducted annually and follows consistent and standardized methods that allow for an accurate understanding of population change and decisions related to bird conservation across the continent.”
This research helps land and resource managers identify how birds are affected by disease and environmental toxins, invasive species, climate change, human activity, changes in land cover, and other factors. This includes identifying priority conservation sites as well as endangered species before they are eligible for listing under the US Endangered Species Act and the Canadian Species at Risk Act.
BBS operates under social distancing guidelines
Blue dots show the locations of the breeding bird survey routes in North America. Image by USGS
“As in previous years, we expect more than 2,000 participants,” said O’Connell. “Because surveys are conducted over large areas with limited human interaction, they are a great opportunity for our volunteers who are so important in the effort to help protect North American birds while keeping them socially distant and enjoying the benefits of staying in nature. Participant safety is our top priority, and while much of the coming season will be as in previous years, guidelines have been put in place to minimize the risk of exposure to coronavirus. “
State and local security measures during the pandemic may vary by location. Therefore, BBS staff advise participants to follow local guidelines. Other guidelines include taking surveys alone or with those in a participant’s “social bubble”, keeping six feet away from others, wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene with adequate hand disinfection, and not taking surveys when you are feeling sick.
Field activities for the 2020 survey have been canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This decision was made in line with last year’s recommendations and non-essential travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year. This ensured that the BBS activities did not present a risk of exposure. In addition, access to roads on BBS survey routes was restricted due to closed public areas.
BBS observers are supported by around 1,000 more participants who help with driving, collecting GPS coordinates and recording descriptions of the surroundings. Every year about 225,000 miles and more than 22,500 hours are logged by the dedicated survey staff. BBS employees compile the data, analyze it and pass it on to the public.
The title of the project refers to breeding birds as the survey is conducted during the high season and ranges from April to July depending on the location. This time is ideal for recurring population numbers as most birds do not migrate.
If you live in the United States, have a background in bird watching, and are interested in attending the BBS, contact your state coordinators working in their respective bird watching communities to find bird watchers with proven ability to identify and survey birds sing and call. More information for potential participants in Canada can be found here. Available routes and contact information for Mexico can be found here.
Thank you to the US Geological Survey for providing this news.
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