Longest Study of Great Lakes Region Birds Finds Populations Holding Steady
In the Great Lakes Region, the longest study of bird populations in the region shows that overall breeding bird populations of many species were stable or increasing between 1995 and 2011. The western Great Lakes region is among the most diverse in North America.
Gerald Niemi of the University of Minnesota–Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute and Robert Howe of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay are lead authors of the report with co-author Brian Sturtevant, a research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station.
Baltimore Oriole, photo by Larry Sirvio used with permission.
Systematic monitoring of breeding bird populations is the heart of assessing the conservation status of species; breeding bird monitoring also gives us insight into the ecological condition of the forests.
Birders, some of whom participated throughout the two-decade study, were a vital part of the unique inventory effort.
Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey volunteer sketching bird locations during a 10-minute point count. Photo by Scott Giese, used with permission.
Breeding bird monitoring programs were established in the former Nicolet National Forest and the Chequamegon National Forest in Wisconsin and the Chippewa and Superior National Forests in Minnesota. The Chequamegon and Nicolet National Forests were combined into one National Forest in 1993; however, bird data are reported separately for these administrative units to preserve the historical and spatial integrity of the respective datasets.
For some of the Forest surveys, volunteer bird counters had to pass a skill test before being accepted for the monitoring program, and in addition to the field training and testing, all observers were required to have a hearing test to ensure their hearing was within normal ranges.
Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey volunteer listening and documenting bird calls during a 10-minute point count. Photo by Scott Giese, used with permission
Over the course of 26 field seasons (1987–2012), participants in the four National Forest monitoring programs counted over 400,000 birds during more than 30,000 10-minute point counts.
Blackburnian Warbler, photo by Jon Swanson, used with permission.
Of the 187 species observed in surveys, Wild Turkey has perhaps had the best two decades. In Wisconsin, the species introduction program began in the 1970s in Wisconsin and today Wild Turkey are found throughout the State.
Wild Turkey, photo by Robert Howe, used with permission.
The study’s authors conclude that although limited detailed information is available on breeding bird trends in this region during the past 100 years, the creation of the four national forests in the early 1900s has contributed significantly to the stabilization of many breeding bird populations within the western Great Lakes region. Trend data suggest that this may be the case for the past 15 to 20 years.
Photo of mature red pine habitat courtesy of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo and Nashville warbler were among the top 10 most abundant species found in these field surveys.
Nashville Warbler. Photo by www.mikelentzphotography.com, used with permission.
In all four National Forests, bird species of mixed conifer-deciduous forests of the northern United States and Canada (ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, black-throated green warbler, least flycatcher, hermit thrush, veery, and yellow-bellied sapsucker) were prominent in our field surveys.
Hermit Thrush. Photo by Larry Sirvio, used with permission.
Boreal birds (spruce grouse, black-backed woodpecker, great gray owl, boreal chickadee, gray jay, ruby-crowned kinglet, and several boreal warbler species) were most likely to be found in the Superior National Forest, the northernmost National Forest in this study area, which contributed significantly to the uniqueness of the Superior National Forest’s regional avifauna.
Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Sparky Stensaas/www.ThePhotoNaturalist.com, used with permission.
Blackburnian warbler, Canada warbler, Cape May warbler, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, gray jay, magnolia warbler, Swainson’s thrush, and winter wren were present in all four national forests, but their numbers and frequencies were significantly higher in the Superior National Forest.
Magnolia Warbler. Photo by Jon Swanson, used with permission.
American redstart, chipping sparrow, Connecticut warbler, common yellowthroat, pine warbler, white-winged crossbill, and yellow-throated vireo showed a high affinity for the Chippewa National Forest.
American redstart. Photo by Bruce Lees, used with permission.
Brown-headed cowbird, eastern towhee, ruffed grouse, and wood thrush showed a high affinity for the Chequamegon National Forest.
Eastern Towhee. Photo by Larry Sirvio, used with permission.