Surveys - Breeding surveys

The primary goal of the breeding survey is to obtain a complete list of all birds breeding in each block. This will require both identifying as many species as possible, and obtaining the strongest evidence for breeding possible. In reality, it will not be possible to find every species in most cases. This is not a problem because we have designed the data collection to allow us to identify cases where species might have been missed. These methods will work best, however, if all blocks receive a thorough search that identifies the majority of the species present. Based on results from other atlas projects, we are aiming to obtain about 20 hours of breeding-season survey work in each atlas block over the course of the three-year study. Volunteers who want to put in more time are welcome to do so, but it will serve the atlas project best if people move to a new block after reaching the 20-hour mark.

When to survey: Ideally, these 20 hours will be spread out in time to maximize the number of species found and the number of species that can be confirmed as breeders. The best time of day to visit your block is early morning, when birds are most active, although at least one trip should be made in the evening or at night to listen for nocturnal species (e.g., rails, owls, nightjars). Because different species begin breeding at different times, visits should be spread out across the breeding season. It also becomes easier to confirm breeding as the season progresses, so surveys in mid-summer when many species are actively feeding young can be especially productive.

Where to survey: In addition to spreading out search effort over time, it is also important to think about ways to gain good spatial coverage. It is not essential to visit the entire area of your block, especially if there are large areas of a single habitat (e.g., continuous second growth forest, or large developed areas) or private land that you cannot access. It is, however, important to try to visit every habitat type, as this will maximize the number of species found. Once you get an idea of which habitats occur in your block, from the map and scouting around, you should have a pretty good idea of where to look to find most species.

How to survey: A good surveying strategy is to start by identifying as many species as possible on the first trip, essentially making a fairly complete list. You will be able to confirm breeding for some species right away, but the majority will probably be noted as possible or probable breeders, especially if your first visit is early in the season. On later visits, you will hopefully be able to upgrade many of these species, with stronger evidence of breeding.

Exactly how you distribute your time is up to you, but one approach might be to make three 5- or 6- hour morning visits to your block, the first in the latter half of May, then one in June and one in July. A couple of shorter visits to target night-birds or particular species that you think you have missed would then make up the 20 hours. This scheme may not work for everyone, however. A good alternative might be to make 20 one-hour visits (perhaps mostly before work each day, but with 1-2 evening visits), each to a different part of the block, and evenly spread out across the summer.

The survey protocol is flexible enough to allow people to plan their time in whatever way works best for them. Two crucial things, though, are to keep a record of the time you spend surveying and to check a separate list of species each time you visit your block. The field card that we use to collect data will have places where you can provide this information.