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Birding for Conservation

Citizen science is integral to Michigan Audubon’s efforts to provide data that help identify threats to bird populations and habitat. This research data, collected by volunteers, leads to programs and policies designed to protect species and the habitats in which they live.

Results from seasonal surveys, species-specific counts, and more are published in Michigan Audubon’s ornithological journal, Michigan Birds and Natural History.

Bird Surveys on Michigan Audubon Sanctuaries

If you’re an experienced birder who is adept at identifying most Michigan birds by sight and call, consider becoming a volunteer bird surveyor. These surveys are critical to understanding which species use our sanctuaries for migrating, breeding, or over-wintering. Birds are monitored at our sanctuaries via 10-minute point count surveys conducted at specific locations and at regular intervals. Surveyors can sign up for year-round (5 times a year) or breeding season (3 times during summer) surveys. Survey routes vary in length and terrain difficulty, but most routes are roughly 1 mile, each way. No experience is necessary as long as you’re willing to learn.

Minimum 2 year commitment preferred.

Check out our Sanctuaries page to find a sanctuary near you.

For more information, please contact Rachelle Roake at RRoake@michiganaudubon.org

Breeding Bird Survey

The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a long-term, large-scale international avian monitoring program initiated in 1966 to track the status and trends of North American bird populations. The USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Center jointly coordinate the BBS Program. Each year during the height of the avian breeding season, June for most of the U.S. and Canada, participants skilled in avian identification collect bird population data along roadside survey routes. Each survey route is 24.5 miles long with stops at 0.5-mile intervals. At each stop, a 3-minute point count is conducted. During the count, every bird seen within a 0.25-mile radius or heard is recorded. Surveys start one-half hour before local sunrise and take about 5 hours to complete. Over 4100 survey routes are located across the continental U.S. and Canada.

Once analyzed, BBS data provide an index of population abundance that can be used to estimate population trends and relative abundances at various geographic scales. Trend estimates for more than 420 bird species and all raw data are currently available via the BBS web site.

BBS routes in Michigan are very well surveyed and few routes are vacant. If you’re interested in getting involved with the BBS, please visit https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/index.cfm for more information. There you’ll find out where vacant routes are and learn how to participate.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology - eBird

eBird is a real-time, online bird checklist program hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Bird-submitted checklists provide rich data for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. The vast numbers of bird observations made each year by recreational and professional bird watchers feed into a global-scale database that helps inform conservation science. It is amassing one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence.

The observations of each participant join those of others in an international network of eBird users. eBird then shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. In time these data will become the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribution across the western hemisphere and beyond.

This information was adapted from www.ebird.org/about.

See our Go Birding page for more information, or visit ebird.org.

Chimney Swift Surveys

Chimney swifts have suffered steep declines over recent decades, leading to their status as Near Threatened by BirdLife International. These urban birds nest and roost nearly exclusively in man-made structures (mainly chimneys, but also silos, artificial nesting towers, and natural tree cavities). Unfortunately, large roosts are often associated with old, historic buildings that are frequently torn down. By surveying these roosts, we hope to gather information to help support conservation of critical roosting structures in Michigan. Data shared with Michigan Audubon will be forwarded to the National Chimney Swift Conservation Association to contribute to international monitoring efforts. Learn more about our Chimney Swift conservation efforts.

Fall Migration Roost Surveys (A Swift Night Out)

Volunteers are needed to survey chimney swift roosts (mainly chimneys) across the state during fall migration. These surveys aim to gather information about where, when, and how many birds are roosting across Michigan. By surveying these roosts, we hope to gather information to help support conservation of critical roosting structures in Michigan.

For the official North American count, roosts are surveyed for at least one night during the second weekends in August and September (Friday – Sunday nights). At this time, Michigan Audubon is looking for any information on active roosts, so surveys done at any time are welcome. Surveys begin 30 minutes before sunset and end when the last swift enters the chimney. Learn more about the surveys, find data sheets, and enter survey data below.

Chimney swift roost survey protocol

Chimney swift roost data entry

Chimney swift roost data sheet (optional)

 

 

Christmas Bird Count

Every year tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission – often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.

From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

Michigan Audubon volunteers participate in both the state and national counts. To find information on a count near you, check out National Audubon’s interactive count circle map.

Find CBC forms for Michigan only counts below (links are to PDF files that will open in a new window):

CBC Data for 2014-2015 and prior years for all “national” counts can be found on the National Audubon CBC website.

CBC Data for 2013-2014 for all “Michigan-Only” counts was published in print format in Michigan Birds and Natural History, Volume 21, Issue 3 (June-August). Information on prior counts can also be found in Michigan Birds and Natural History, usually in Issue 3 of the volume corresponding to the year after the count.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) each year during the second week of February. This fun, free, family-friendly activity is a great way to engage both beginner and experienced birders in citizen science.

Participating in the count is as simple as counting birds for as little as fifteen minutes on one or more days of the count then reporting the results online at BirdCount.org. All of the observations submitted to the GBBC are automatically entered into eBird. The data are available to explore using a number of different tools on eBird.org and BirdCount.org. Regular eBird users can participate by entering checklists into eBird as usual during the count.

Last year more than 142,000 people from 135 countries reported more than 4,200 species and over 17 million individual birds, providing an incredible snapshot of winter bird populations and distribution in North America and beyond. Learn more about this fantastic citizen science event at http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.

Michigan Bird Records Committee

The Michigan Bird Records Committee (MBRC) is an all-volunteer entity that endeavors to improve the quality of knowledge on the distribution and abundance of the birds of Michigan.

Documenting a rare bird is a valuable exercise. Scrutinizing and recording unbiased details is simultaneously the most important and time consuming step in documenting a rare bird. Written documentation provides the exact details as the observer perceived them, which is key when being evaluated by another party. While technology has recently allowed for easy retrieval of photographs of rare birds, it has caused many birders to become overly reliant on photos alone.

The seven-member committee maintains a regular schedule of meetings, adheres to bylaws, and assists birders of all skill levels in documenting and scrutinizing bird records from across Michigan. Learn more at www.mibirdrecords.com.

Use this form to report rare bird sightings!

Click here to download the rare bird form. This form is to be used for species presently on the MBRC Review List, potential first state records, and those for which a seasonal-survey compiler has solicited documentation.

North American Migration Count

The North American Migration Count (NAMC) is a continent wide count of the spring migration in which all counts are conducted on the same day. This provides a “snapshot” method of monitoring the spring migration. In general, the count is similar to the Christmas Bird Counts organized by the National Audubon Society. The major difference is that the count area is by county rather than a “count circle”. There are no fees for the count. Surveyors can volunteer to bird at a local natural area or personal bird feeder and may bird as long as he/she desires. Survey data must reported to the county compiler, but surveyors may also submit data to eBird.

The NAMC is held on the second Saturday in May, which this year is May 14th, 2016.

If you’d like to volunteer to survey in your county, please get in touch with your county compiler. Locate a compiler near you on the NAMC County Compiler List.

Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz

Rusty Blackbirds have experienced steep population declines and conservationists are looking for birders like you to help understand this commonly overlooked species. In 2014, the International Rusty Blackbird Working Group launched the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz that challenged birders to scour the landscape for Rusty Blackbirds during this species’ northward migration. Nearly 5,000 birders submitted over 13,000 eBird checklists for The Blitz in 2014 and this mountain of data helped to identify migratory hotspots, habitat use, and potential migratory pathways. Michigan clearly emerged as an important migratory pathway for Rusties, but more birders are needed this year to re-visit potential hotspots and search new areas that were missed in 2014. Anyone can participate and it’s easy to get involved; just go birding! From March – June look and listen for these “squeaky-hinge” birds and report your sightings on eBird (if you do not use eBird but still want to participate, please contact Rachelle at rroake@michiganaudubon.org). For more information on identifying Rusties, finding Rusty habitat, and how to submit your sightings, please visit www.rustyblackbird.org.

Seasonal Surveys

The mission of the Michigan Seasonal Bird Survey is to gather seasonal bird data throughout the state. The success of this mission depends upon volunteer birders of all skill levels taking the time to compile and send in their observations in a report for each of the four seasons (due to the compiler by Mar 15, Jun 15, Aug 15, and Dec 15, respectively).

Summer Cover Sheet

Summer Survey Form

Fall Cover Sheet

Fall Survey Form

Winter Cover Sheet

Winter Survey Form

Spring Cover Sheet

Spring Survey Forms

Your report is needed, whether you travel all over the state in pursuit of birds, or whether you report birds only from your own backyard. Results are compiled by county, and many counties have only a few regular contributors – some have none. Your sightings matter – even if you don’t have anything rare to report.

The Michigan Bird Survey is interested in more than rarities. It keeps tabs on all species, noting the timing of migration, and the high counts (and low counts) for wintering and breeding species.

Due to the input of volunteers like you who send in their sightings, and the hard work of the seasonal compilers who put it all together, Michigan’s Seasonal Bird Survey is setting a high standard for the quality of bird reporting in the Great Lakes region.

The Seasonal Bird Survey produces a compilation of all bird species seen in Michigan each season, amassed in the form of an annotated list published quarterly in the Michigan Audubon publication Michigan Birds and Natural History. The survey lists each species recorded in the state for the season, followed by the number of counties in which it was reported within three regions of the state (Upper Peninsula, Northern Lower Peninsula, and Southern Lower Peninsula). A summary of arrival and departure dates, high or low counts, notes on emerging trends or other pertinent information follows. This information is important for detecting long-term trends in bird populations.

The compilers also send in a summary for North American Birds, the national publication devoted to tracking bird populations continent-wide.

Filling out the form is easy: just fill in the blanks with the observations you’ve made. And rather than waiting until the end of the season, you can check species off by county as each season progresses. Like birdwatching itself, using this form is fun! It’s nothing like a tax form!

The form indicates which species are unusual for each season. If you’re lucky enough to see anything unusual, you will be asked to write a few words describing what you’ve seen. Really rare birds require a more complete description. The form lets you know what species require documentation.

The Seasonal Bird Survey is also in need of photos of seasonal or statewide rarities. The purpose of publishing rarity photos is to provide and share your documentation – so these photos need not be artistically or technically flawless, but merely need to provide an identifiable view of the bird in question. Good quality photos of other birds taken in Michigan during the season are also welcome.