Development of Avian Indicators and Measures for Monitoring Threats and Effectiveness of Conservation Actions in the Northeast

RCN Topic
Regional Indicators and Measures

With the completion of this project, Northeast regional monitoring procedures are now available for birds of grasslands, tidal marshes and mountain forests - habitats that span the northeastern landscape, contain a high percentage of vulnerable species, and encompass the region’s major management issues.   These coordinated bird monitoring programs can effectively measure threats and management effects at the regional level to target birds and habitats identified by State Wildlife Action Plans as those in greatest need of conservation. 

Northeastern wildlife and wildlife habitats are at risk from a variety of anthropogenic threats.  Monitoring these threats and the effectiveness of conservation actions is the key to optimizing allocation of limited resources.  Birds stand out among other wildlife taxa as particularly useful indicators, as they are widespread, observable, and sensitive to environmental change.  Techniques for monitoring birds are also relatively advanced, with new field and statistical methods promising to add value to decades of past surveys.

Products of this work include peer-reviewed survey design, protocol and standard operating procedures for each indicator group (grassland, tidal marsh and mountain forest birds) along with a regional database for each indicator group.  Support for this project accelerated implementation of "A Framework for Coordinated Bird Monitoring in the Northeast", "The Northeast Bird Monitoring Handbook" and initiated essential components of "The Northeast Monitoring and Performance Reporting Framework".

Please note that the mountain bird survey data was gathered as part of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies high-elevation bird monitoring program, Mountain Birdwatch and users of the data should consult the Mountain Birdwatch data policy.

Ten Steps to Successful Bird Conservation through Improved Monitoring

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Development of avian indicators and measures for monitoring threats and effectiveness of conservation actions – Grassland Birds

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Salt marsh breeding bird populations (rails, bitterns, sparrows, etc.) in eastern North America are high conservation priorities in need of site specific and regional monitoring designed to detect population changes over time. The present status and trends of these species are unknown but are thought to be declining and the majority of these species are listed as conservation priorities on Comprehensive Wildlife Plans throughout the eastern United States. National Wildlife Refuges and National Park Service units, as well as other wildlife conservation areas, provide important salt marsh habitat, but little is known about the abundance, population trends, or management needs of these breeding bird species. The entire breeding range of Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Coastal Plain Swamp sparrows are within BCR 30, providing an opportunity for designing surveys to estimate abundance and detect population trends through repeated surveys within the entire breeding ranges of two priority species. The primary purpose of this project is to develop a hierarchical sampling frame and monitoring protocol for salt marsh birds in Bird Conservation Region (BCR) 30 that will provide sample designs that could be implemented to detect species-specific estimates of abundance at several scales, including 1) specific sites (i.e. National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges), 2) within states or regions, and 3) within BCR 30.

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This protocol represents an effort to strengthen monitoring of high-elevation landbirds from the Catskill Mountains of New York to the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia through improved coordination, statistical design, and data management. It builds on knowledge and experience gained by several institutions over sixteen years of mountain bird research and monitoring in the region. A standardized international protocol, aligned with the information needs of land stewards and policy-makers, will promote conservation of a vulnerable bird community. A unified approach will also achieve efficiencies necessary to sustain high-elevation landbird monitoring over the long term.

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The framework is a set of principles, tools, and procedures to help biologists, biometricians, data managers, and wildlife administrators achieve five overarching goals:

  1. integrate monitoring into bird management and conservation decision-making; 
  2. broaden the scope of current monitoring for species that are most at risk;
  3. coordinate monitoring programs among organizations and integrate them across spatial scales;
  4. increase the value of monitoring information by improving survey design, field methods, and data analysis; and 5. maintain bird population monitoring data in modern data management systems.
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