Gov. Shumlin, wildlife conservationists announce release of Vermont bird atlas
April 3, 2013 - WILLISTON - Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) today announced the publication of the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont, the most complete assessment of birds ever assembled for the state and an encyclopedia of avian knowledge for everyone from scientists to school students to backyard birdwatchers.
The 10-year atlas project recruited more than 300 Vermont volunteers to catalog 202 bird species nesting in the state, identifying species at risk and others faring well.
The Governor noted that a survey last year by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife found that Vermont ranks first in the nation with the most wildlife watchers per capita (53 percent of Vermonters compared to a U.S. average of 30 percent).
“Now we have a book to celebrate that dedication,” he said during a news conference at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston. “The Breeding Bird Atlas is based firmly on science, but it’s a book for everyone.”
This second atlas is noteworthy, the Governor said, because it reveals population trends in Vermont birds since completion of the states’ first atlas in the 1980s.
“We cannot know the nature of Vermont, the health of woodlands, wetlands and other wild places, without knowing the status of our birds,” said Dr. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at VCE who ran the project and edited the atlas. “This atlas will be essential reading for any Vermont conservationist.”
The book features a detailed account of every nesting species, and includes 208 photographs, 415 maps, 591 tables and 215 graphs. VCE is donating atlases, priced at $75, to 150 libraries across the state. Atlas results are also online.
With support from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, VCE recruited 350 volunteers to search the state for breeding birds from 2003 through 2007. Data analysis and production of the book continued until 2013. VCE is a private, non-profit group of research biologists specializing in wildlife conservation research. Federal funding, passed through the State of Vermont, and VCE’s private fundraising financed the atlas field work and publication of the book.
The atlas examines trends, including:
• Managed Species gained ground, at least in part, as a result of human intervention. Of the 17 birds showing the project’s greatest gains on a percentage basis, nine regularly intersect the lives of people, either as protected species (Osprey and Bald Eagle), at the bird feeder (Carolina Wren and Tufted Titmouse) or as managed game species (Mallard and Wild Turkey).
• Grassland Species declined since the first atlas project, reflecting national trends. Upland Sandpipers and Grasshopper Sparrows are nearly absent from the state; Vesper Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, and Horned Lark are breeding in fewer areas. American Kestrel and Bobolink remain fairly widespread in proper habitat, but their numbers are declining nonetheless. In Vermont, loss of farmland, coupled with intensification of haying, have contributed to drops in grassland birds. One notable exception the loss of grassland birds was an increase in Northern Harriers.
• Aerial Insectivores, birds that feed mostly on flying insects, such as Nightjars, Flycatchers, Swifts and Swallows, showed disturbing population trends. Among 18 aerial insectivores, 13 species declined and the remainder either gained population or remained relatively unchanged since the first atlas. The Common Nighthawk and Whip-poor-will showed the most precipitous drops. Bank and Cliff Swallows, Purple Martin, Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Chimney Swift all showed declines since the first atlas. Unlike grassland species, aerial insectivores span a diversity of habitats, but a common cause for the population declines may be a drop in insect prey abundance. Additional concerns include mercury and other atmospheric toxins accumulating in insects, and loss of breeding and wintering habitat for some species.
• Wetland Birds generally fared well since the first atlas. This is another diverse group, occupying forests and open wetlands, and ranging from Pied-billed Grebe to Swamp Sparrow. Among wetland species, more than three times as many species gained population as lost. Most species nesting in forested wetlands (swamps) increased, suggesting some level of improvement in wetland quality in Vermont.
“This project demonstrates what can be accomplished when people pull together for a common goal,” said Steve Parren, Wildlife Diversity Program Director at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, who wrote the book’s forward. “The Vermont Center for Ecostudies, the Fish and Wildife Department, other nonprofits and organizations, as well as an army of volunteers worked together for conservation and made the dream of a second Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas a reality.”
Photo: Scarlet Tanager, © Bryan Pfeiffer