How Does the Atlas Work?

The Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas is a scientifically-designed five-year field project to assess the status, distribution and abundance of bird species that breed within the three Maritime Provinces. Data collection for this second Atlas begins 2006 and continues through 2010. Pivotal to Atlas success is the participation of large numbers of volunteer birdwatchers that contribute their time and skills to the gathering of data. Breeding Bird Atlases have been produced in many European countries and throughout North America.

As birds are often considered good ecological indicators, atlases typically are repeated every 20 years to document changes in bird distribution that may reflect changes in forestry, agriculture, urban expansion, climate change, natural disasters, bird feeding, other natural or man-made forces, and ultimately ecosystem health. Indeed, many changes in bird distribution have occurred in the 20 years since the first Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas was undertaken (1986-1990), and the time has come for a second Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas.

The second Atlas will be produced as a bilingual book, which will describe population trends and refined abundance estimates in the context of regional changes. The data themselves will be stored in a complete and fully-searchable database containing details of specific observations that will be available for use by scientists, environmental assessors, biologists, municipal planners, students and others.

How Do You “Atlas” for Birds?

The first, and most basic bird atlassing method (and the only method used in the first Atlas) consists of finding evidence of breeding for as many species as possible in a square. For example, singing birds in their breeding habitat in their breeding season are recorded as “possible” breeders; pairs of birds, agitated or displaying birds are “probable” breeders; and nests, distraction displays or fledged young are recorded as “confirmed” breeding. These data provide information on the distribution of birds throughout the Maritimes.

The second bird sampling method is called point counting. This method is used to estimate the relative abundance of bird species in different squares to give a picture of where the populations of each species are concentrated. Collecting abundance data will be optional for atlassers, but will be encouraged for experienced birders, provided they can identify most birds in their area by song.

The third sampling method involves collecting more precise documentation of the breeding sites of rare species and colonial species. Participants will be encouraged to fill out nest record cards with detailed information for any nests they find. However, particular emphasis will be placed on species that are either rare in the Maritimes or regionally rare, as well as species such as Common Eider and Chimney Swift that nest in colonies. Details of breeding locations and the size of colonies will be requested on special data forms.
Data resulting from all of these atlassing methods will be submitted to the Atlas staff either on scanable data forms, or via the website. Data will be checked for errors, and then made available through interactive maps and WebPages.

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Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas, Birds Canada, 17 Waterfowl Lane Sackville, NB E4L 4N1 Canada
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