The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas
The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario (2001-2005) includes > 75% of all birds breeding in Canada. The second edition of this survey summarizes 5 years of observations and was released at 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 ~14,000 ten km squares. MVFN completed Appleton Square number 18VR10.
Link to Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (2001-2005) website http://www.birdsontario.org/atlas/index.jsp
Soon after the lauch of the new atlas (on February 21st, 2008) MVFN enjoyed a lecture which highlighted many aspects of the new Breeding Bird Atlas. “Birds: Changes and Challenges Around Us” was the 5th in MVFN’s “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges” series. 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. 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.
Cliff with a copy of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario (2001-2005) following his MVFN lecture presented in February 2008, soon after the launch of the atlas. Photo Pauline Donaldson
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.
MVFN continues to monitor birds with its annual Audubon Christmas Bird counts, including the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count and the Lanark Highlands Christmas Bird Count and other counts. Cliff and Lynda Bennett go out each year to count birds for the Baillie Birdathon. Funds raised from the Birdathon go to Bird Studies Canada for research and bird conservation work, with a portion of sponsorship money coming back to MVFN from Bird Studies Canada.