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Cliff Bennett and the new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario

The new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario,

Press release Feb 25, 2008

by Pauline Donaldson

NOTE: Link to Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2001-2005) website

The Appleton Square number 18VR10 was completed by MVFN

A large crowd was in attendance for “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” a lecture hosted by the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalist’s (MVFN) February 21st in Almonte. The lecture, 5th in MVFN’s “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” series, was presented by Cliff Bennett, local bird columnist and current Eastern Regional Director for Ontario Nature (ON).

Cliff Bennett with new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario

Cliff with the brand new Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario following his MVFN lecture on the topic last Thursday. Photo by Pauline Donaldson

Our speaker was given a warm introduction by Brenda Boyd, MVFN’s ON Representative and Director for Membership. Still a classroom teacher at heart, Cliff began his presentation with a ‘test your knowledge’ surprise slide-show quiz to name the bird on the screen. Four ‘experts’ in the audience tied with 10/11 correct answers and one lucky expert was presented with a prize of a wooden blue bird box.

Great inspiration for the lecture was taken from the January launch of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2001-2005. Cliff Bennett has been following birds for many years and was very pleased to be able to present some of the findings in the new Atlas to the audience. Cliff explained that there are many ways citizens help track bird species and abundance e.g. Christmas bird counts, Backyard Bird Counts, Marsh Monitoring, Loon Watch, etc. However, by far the most impressive recent example is the Ontario Breeding Bird Survey which tracks birds which breed in Ontario.

The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas includes > 75% of all birds breeding in Canada. The second edition of this survey summarizes 5 years of observations and was just released in a launch at the Canadian Museum of Nature in January 2008. The data was compiled and analyzed by professionals but the huge amount of data collected over the five years represents the combined effort of more than 3000 people logging some 153, 000 hours watching birds looking for evidence of breeding. The province was divided into about 14,000 ten km squares including the ‘Appleton’ square or square 18VR10 which MVFN was responsible for.

Cliff summed up some of the fascinating facts found in this Atlas which differed from the first Atlas of 20 years ago. Some birds such as house finches, blue-headed vireos, Canada geese, turkey vultures and wild turkeys expanded their ranges considerably. All raptors increased significantly except for great horned owl. The most widespread bird, found in 91% of the squares, was the white throated sparrow. In addition to the range of birds, the data also allows estimates of overall numbers in the province. For example some of the most abundant birds include Nashville warblers at 15 million and red eyed vireos at 9 million.

Generally more forest bird species increased in population than decreased. This probably reflects land taken out of agricultural use. For grassland birds there were more decreases than increases. There was a slight increase in wetland birds. There were more decreases than increases in shrub and early succession birds. Significant decreases however were noted for all aerial foragers. This includes species such as night hawks (seen in 545 fewer squares), chimney swifts, martins and whip-poor-wills.

In some cases where other parts of Ontario saw declines, we saw increases locally. As someone who is contacted daily with bird reports from the local area, Cliff has already noticed more changes since the atlas. For example blue birds locally may now be on the decline.

Adverse human attitude towards birds, explained Bennett, is a major factor in conservation challenges. Our avian friends are facing significant challenges not only from deforestation in the tropics, but in Ontario from habitat destruction during large subdivision development, damage from pesticides, hazards to bird navigation from tall buildings, wind mills and excessive lighting. Many large developers claim “It is only a little bird.” However, Bennett pointed out that we need a healthy bird population for balance in our natural world. We need to learn as much as we can about birds.

All are invited to the next lecture in the “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” series. This session will focus on turtles and will be presented by David Seburn of Seburn Ecological Services, on Thursday March 20th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall in Almonte. For more information, please contact Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at


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