Putting Newfoundland's (Backyard) Birds on the Map - Birds Canada
Thank you to Catherine Dale at Birds Canada for submitting this entry about the upcoming Breeding Bird Atlas in Newfoundland. Catherine is the Coordinator for the Newfoundland Breeding Bird Atlas and is based out of St. John's.
People may be stuck at home these days, but birds are still on the move. As the weather warms, more than 2 billion birds are on their way north to their Canadian breeding grounds. Some of them will end their journey in Newfoundland, where they will establish territories, build nests, lay their eggs, and raise their young this summer.
A Savannah Sparrow stakes his territorial claim at Cape St. Mary’s. Photo Bird Studies Canada
For most Canadian provinces, we have a good idea which species call the province home during the breeding season and where they can be found. But we currently lack that knowledge for the island of Newfoundland – because Newfoundland and Labrador is the only remaining Canadian province lacking a Breeding Bird Atlas.
Breeding bird atlases map the distribution and abundance of all bird species breeding in a jurisdiction. Having solid baseline data about bird population is essential for making sound conservation and management decisions: we can’t know what we’re losing if we don’t know what’s out there. And because breeding bird atlases are designed to be repeated every 20 years, they can help us track changes in populations over time.
Probability of observing Barn Swallows during the first (1986-90) and second (2006-10) Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlases. From Stewart et al. 2015: Second atlas of breeding birds of the Maritime Provinces.
So how exactly do you atlas for birds? The first step is to divide the area into 10 km × 10 km squares – the basic units of an atlas. In Newfoundland, that works out to approximately 1,450 squares. Over the next 5 years, these squares will be systematically surveyed for evidence of breeding birds.
Surveying a square is essentially the same as going out with birding – but with a purpose. Atlassers keep track of the time they spend in a square and the distance they cover, as well as all the species they encounter. They also note any evidence of breeding they observe for those species – for example, whether males are singing, or birds are seen carrying nesting material or food.
Map of Newfoundland showing 10x10 km atlas squares.
Collecting this data over an area the size of Newfoundland is a huge project, and would be impossible without the help of volunteer citizen scientists: people like you who dedicate their time and effort to survey squares.
Surveying for birds in the high alpine habitat of Gros Morne National Park.
Over the next five years, we will be working to ensure atlas surveys are spread out across Newfoundland so that the island’s wide variety of habitats are adequately represented. However, because the health and safety of our volunteers is our primary concern, Birds Canada has suspended any fieldwork or surveys that require travel for the time being.
But even though we all need to stay home at the moment, we can continue birding in our backyards and from our balconies. In fact, there’s no better time to start learning how to atlas. All you need is a pair of binoculars, a keen eye, and some time to watch birds!