Volunteers document 220 bird species breeding in Wisconsin, including rare marsh birds
MADISON — After the third year of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas survey, volunteers have documented 220 bird species breeding in the state, most recently including a family of rare and secretive marsh birds called king rails. With this addition, 12 new species have been observed nesting in Wisconsin that weren’t found during the first Breeding Bird Atlas survey two decades ago.
Click on image for larger size. (exit DNR)
“A few of these king rails were reported in the first atlas but none were confirmed as nesting here,” says Ryan Brady, Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist and science coordinator for the Atlas. “So it’s exciting to see wetland management efforts having positive benefits for a species that requires high-quality marshes to successfully raise its young.”
Good wetland management by state and federal wildlife management staff have also contributed to another Atlas finding — that trumpeter swans are undergoing an impressive expansion in range and numbers since the last survey from 1995-2000, Brady says.
Trumpeter swans were decimated by overhunting by the late 1800s, and the species was mostly absent from Wisconsin until DNR’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program and partners began reintroducing the species in 1987.
“Even a decade ago, most breeding pairs kept to the more remote northern lakes,” Brady says. “Good wetland management and protection have allowed trumpeters to use unoccupied marshes and increase their numbers to over 5,000 birds.”
Volunteers have documented them breeding across the north, northwest, and central regions and birds have even colonized the Lower Wisconsin River.
Volunteers Still Needed to Accurately Reveal Trends in Birds
The purpose of the five-year atlas effort is to document all bird species that breed in Wisconsin, from common year-round residents like northern cardinal to species of high conservation interest like Connecticut warbler. Some of these species may be vanishing, while others are holding their own, or even increasing, but only a statewide effort will reveal these trends, says Nicholas Anich, Breeding Bird Atlas coordinator for DNR.
“The project has already amassed records of 4.9 million birds but we still have a ways to go,” Anich says. “We need more volunteers to survey priority areas so we get a complete picture of what’s going on with our bird populations and how we can help them moving forward.”
More than 1,400 volunteers have contributed to the survey so far, but more are needed to survey remaining priority areas, particularly in northern, central, and western regions of the state.
Volunteers collect data by observing birds, and enter their sightings online, where the information is reviewed by Anich, Brady, and other ornithologists from organizations leading the project: The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, the Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative, and DNR.
All Wisconsin residents are encouraged to participate, especially those who live or travel to priority areas like northern, central, and western Wisconsin. “It’s easy to participate and you don’t have to be an expert birder to help,” says Bill Mueller, director of the Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory, “We’re constantly hearing from people how rewarding atlasing is, and we welcome participants of all ability levels.”
To volunteer, visit the project website at wsobirds.org/atlas. Training sessions and field trips will take place throughout Wisconsin in 2018. When the project is completed, the data will be published in a hard-copy book and online for use by researchers, land managers, conservationists, and citizens interested in birds and their habitats.