ProjectsMountainsMountain BirdwatchBackground

Why We Monitor Montane Forest Bird Populations

share

Bicknell's Thrush / © Larry Masters

Bicknell’s Thrush is the region’s only endemic songbird and is currently being considered for Federal Endangered listing. © Larry Masters

If you’ve hiked in northern New England’s dense, often impenetrable groves of high-elevation fir and spruce, you may have overheard the fluty trills of Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli), the region’s only endemic songbird.  A unique assemblage of birds breed in these  remote, difficult to access forests, and many of these species reach the southern limits of their distribution in the Northeast’s montane “sky islands”. However, part of what makes these forests special also makes them challenging for conservation; the inaccessibility of these montane ecosystems makes generating population estimates for avian breeders difficult, since most standardized monitoring schemes (e.g. the Breeding Bird Survey) lack thorough coverage of these remote areas. The development of conservation strategies for Bicknell’s Thrush and other montane songbirds lagged accordingly.

Mountain Birdwatch was created in 2000 to fill these information gaps. This project aimed to:

Blackpoll Warbler / © Jeff Nadler

The Blackpoll Warbler is listed in the 2014 State of the Birds Report as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline.” © Jeff Nadler

Originally, MBW offered observers the opportunity to survey all montane songbird species or focus on five: Bicknell’s Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), Blackpoll Warbler (Setophaga striata), White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), and Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). Between 2001 and 2010, observers annually surveyed more than 100 routes in NY, VT, NH, and ME. In 2010, the Vermont Center for Ecostudies launched a revised monitoring project, Mountain Birdwatch 2.0. Improvements included:

Read more about the transition from MBW to MBW2 in our 2010 Report.

Since its inception in 2000, Mountain Birdwatch data have been used to:

Red Squirrels are common avian nest predators; Mountain Birdwatch tracks bird and predator population cycles. © Gilles Gonthier

Red Squirrels are common avian nest predators; Mountain Birdwatch tracks bird and predator population cycles. © Gilles Gonthier

Mountain Birdwatch also serves as the monitoring arm of the International Bicknell’s Thrush Conservation Group.