Bird Watchers and Advanced Technology Contribute to Complex Biodiversity Study

Dedicated volunteer bird-watchers covered around 3,500 routes across the United States, Canada and Alaska as participants in the North American Breeding Bird survey. This data is being used by the Montana State University (MSU) in a study that examines biodiversity across North America. Together with additional information gathered by a satellite sensor developed at the university, researchers are gaining tremendous insight on issues such as conservation and land use.

Using a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), which was first launched in 1999 on the NASA Terra satellite, researchers are receiving comprehensive data of vegetation in the areas that are included in the study. Although extensive data has been collected by volunteers, the fact that birds are so mobile makes it difficult to get a true understanding of large areas of bird breeding habitat purely from ground surveys. This is where MODIS is proving invaluable by allowing a “bird’s-eye view” of the landscape. Combining ground surveys with MODIS data gives researchers a wealth of information on a national scale.

During the time that he was park ornithologist, Terry McEneaney drove around Yellowstone National Park every June over a period of thirty years, identifying and recording information on the birds he came across. Starting early in the morning he would stop at a designated spot to identify and record his findings, moving onto the next spot and repeating the process. McEneaney would stop 50 times along his 24.5 mile route, trying to complete the routine before 9:30 am, which is roughly the time that birds stop singing. Birdsong is invaluable in the accurate identification of birds. McEneaney is now retired from his job at the National Park Service, but it is rewarding for him to know that the data he gathered with such dedication and perseverance is being put to good use.

Using information gathered by bird-watchers involved in the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Montana State University analyzed 1,390 of the almost 3,500 routes covered by the survey. This analysis was then combined with the results obtained from MODIS. Delighted with the results obtained from this complex exercise, researchers are most appreciative of the efforts of bird-watching volunteers in gathering the information which is now being used, along with advanced technology, to benefit the birds of America – and, in turn, will benefit future generations of bird-watchers