Breeding Bird Atlases
Canadians are putting their passion for birding on the map!
Birds are effective indicators of environmental health because
they respond quickly to environmental change, occupy every habitat
type and are easy to survey. Breeding Bird Atlas projects engage
thousands of volunteer citizen scientists to gather information that
is used to map breeding bird distribution and relative abundance,
within a defined geographic area. Atlases are typically five-year
projects, designed to be repeated at regular intervals (usually
every twenty years), that provide a standard assessment of the
current status of breeding birds and lay the framework for
evaluating long-term changes.
Atlas projects harness the collective skills of thousands of
volunteers, delivering a major contribution to science, and
ultimately, policy making. Since their inception more than 50 years
ago, Atlas projects have gained international recognition as an
invaluable tool for identifying critical habitat and setting
conservation priorities, and have come to exemplify environmental
partnership at its best, with governments, environmental
organizations, nature groups, industry, professional biologists and
the public all playing a vital, complementary roles.
BSC has pioneered the development of internet technologies to
manage and present atlas information, and as a champion of
volunteerism, is a key delivery partner in the second Maritimes
Breeding Bird Atlas (for which fieldwork began in 2006) and the
British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas (for which fieldwork is set to
begin in the spring of 2008). BSC also played a leading role in the
recently completed second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which will be
available in book form early in 2008.
How do Breeding Bird Atlases work?
Atlases are grid-based – a province or other geographic region is
divided into atlas "squares" (in Canada this is usually 10 km square
blocks), which volunteers then go out and systematically survey,
square by square, for evidence of breeding birds. These grid-based
atlases differ from the distribution maps found in your favourite
field guide because they represent a "snap-shot" in time, rather
than a compilation of historical records, and present information on
a fine enough scale that even small changes in breeding bird
distribution will be apparent in the future.
What are the final products?
Most Breeding Bird Atlases have produced a final hard-copy
publication describing where birds breed using maps and text (some
previous publications are listed on the
Ornithological Atlas Committee website). Increasingly, Atlas
datasets are published as web-based databases equipped with
interactive mapping and data summary tools. Participants and the public not longer have
to wait for project completion to see results, instead Atlas
progress, species occurrence and survey coverage can be tracked in
real time over the course of the project.
Why are Atlases critical to conservation?
Atlas projects have both immediate and long-term applications.
They provide frameworks for monitoring long-term changes in
biodiversity across large geographic areas, which can in turn be
related to changes in climate, habitat and land-use. They are unique
in their ability to generate current and truly comprehensive
inventory information, which greatly improves our understanding of
what species occur where, in which habitats and in what numbers.
This information feeds directly into conservation planning,
management and policy-making, from identifying conservation
priorities and areas of critical habitat, to assessment and recovery
of species at risk, and helping to keep common birds common. Lastly,
the participation of large numbers of volunteers brings different
communities together with a collective interest in natural history,
fosters a keens sense of environmental stewardship, and encourages
hundreds of people to get out and actively enjoy nature.