B-B-B-Bird is the Word… Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 3

Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area

By Douglas Tate

2021 was the kick-off for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas — a large-scale, five-year project to determine the distribution and abundance of all breeding bird species in Ontario — and to compare that with previous results.

The five main partners in this endeavour are Birds Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment and Climate Change Canada), Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Ontario Nature. Parks Canada is committed to supporting the Atlas over the next five years. It is a great opportunity, and will provide an extremely valuable database, for inventory and assessment of bird communities in protected areas.

The data collection for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas is primarily a volunteer-based initiative, but it also involves some dedicated staff and field crews, primarily in the northern parts of the province. The Atlas was first completed in 1981-1985, and was then repeated in 2001-2005, so this effort will be the third iteration. The entire province of Ontario is divided into 10X10 km squares, based on the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) map grid. Maps of major habitat types have been developed for the squares, to help distribute effort among habitats, and ensure the different bird species in those habitats are recorded.

General Atlas coverage involves recording all species of birds encountered in an area. Breeding evidence, such as territorial singing, paired birds, nests, and recently fledged young, is documented. Species are categorized as ’possible,’ ‘probable,’ or ‘confirmed’ breeders in each square, according to the evidence collected. Point counts (stationary, 5-minute counts to record all birds heard and seen) are used to systematically record bird species abundance, to estimate population sizes, and to compare trends over time.

In northern Ontario, staff from Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and Pukaskwa National Park participated in planning meetings, and began field work this summer. Parks Canada is also collaborating with Ontario Parks and other Atlas partners to investigate specific questions related to protected areas and the conservation of bird species. A big change since the previous Atlas is the technological advancement in ability and quality of automated recording units (ARUs). These ARUs can be set to record sounds in the field at specific times of day over a period of days, weeks, or months. The recordings can then be analyzed to determine bird species presence and even abundance. Use of recording units is particularly valuable in remote, difficult to access areas; and have been used this year in both Lake Superior NMCA and Pukaskwa NP.

Despite various access challenges and restrictions imposed by COVID-19 protocols, this first field season is considered a great success, with observations being made and recorders placed in many areas across the two sites.  We look forward to the interpretation of recordings, and learning more about bird communities in these northern Ontario protected areas.

To find out about opportunities for getting involved with bird survey work at Lake Superior NMCA or Pukaskwa NP, email us at superior-superieur@pc.gc.ca or Ont-pukaskwa@pc.gc.ca.


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