Region-wide Bird Monitoring

Monitoring Program Informs Habitat Targeting and Evaluation

In 2016, PLJV joined a region-wide bird monitoring effort. The program, called Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR), is a large partnership-driven program that uses state-of-the-art approaches for the entire process, from the sampling design to how it reports results. The implementation of this program within the PLJV region is called IMBCR for PLJV. Through this program, PLJV will greatly increase its ability to focus and evaluate habitat work and support proactive, targeted conservation action.

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, a PLJV Management Board member, will execute most aspects of the program from hiring field workers to posting summary results in the Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center, which will be available to all partners. For more information about this program, read the information below and download the IMBCR for PLJV partner brochure.

Need for Monitoring

Lark Bunting

Lark Bunting. Photo courtesy of Bill Schmoker.

Monitoring is fundamental to wildlife management but rarely does it happen. Most often the challenges of funding, protocols, and qualified workers prove too great and most monitoring collapses in a few short years. This program functions to address these challenges and allows us to complete the wildlife management cycle of plan, implement and evaluate. The final step of monitoring is critical to understand the effects of management. Monitoring data also informs habitat delivery through development of decision support tools to target conservation actions. Accelerating loss of habitat and changing climate requires distributional information just to understand where to conserve species.

The PLJV region supports many bird species of conservation need for which we have developed conservation plans. Many species are declining, including some that are endemic to the region and some that are among America’s most unique. The western Great Plains avifauna is often cited as having the steepest and most consistent declines of any guild in North America. This trend has continued unabated since surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey first identified it, resulting in as much as a 50% population loss in the last 30 years. In the case of the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, managers in the region have seen firsthand the programmatic and societal cost of lack of monitoring data, which continues to be a challenge with consistently declining budgets. Conservation efforts within the PLJV region benefit from information about the distribution and population trends of birds.

Our Solution

PLJV is working to bring our partners to the IMBCR program, which provides data sharing through the Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center, and find funding to implement the program across its six states. The IMBCR program will contribute to better monitoring information for grassland birds and use the data to better target and evaluate PLJV habitat projects. It is the second largest breeding bird monitoring program in the nation, spanning all or portions of 13 states, and has been operating since 2008 largely through work by Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (a member of the PLJV Management Board). Today, surveys are conducted within five of PLJV’s six states (see map) providing a turnkey opportunity to develop new information for the region.

Sample Sites

A unique feature of the IMBCR program is that the sample sites are randomly selected, unlike other large monitoring programs that sample along roadsides (e.g., Breeding Bird Survey). A square kilometer grid is placed over the entire PLJV area and the area is subdivided into strata. Sample sites are randomly selected from within each stratum. IMBCR has a hierarchical design, so the data collected at smaller scales can be aggregated to make inferences about impacts at the larger scale. One reason this can be done is because data points are not tied to habitat types or conditions, which can change and interrupt the continuity of the data, but rather, are tied to physical features (e.g., rivers) or political boundaries (e.g., states). Within these strata, all vegetation types may be sampled.

Monitoring on Private Lands

IMBCR field scientist counts birds at a survey location.

IMBCR field scientist counts birds at a survey location.

To create an accurate picture of bird populations, surveys are conducted everywhere birds are found across the PLJV landscape. Researchers use a computer program to randomly select square kilometer survey locations, including on private lands. Since 97 percent of the land within the PLJV region is privately owned, landowner participation is critical for getting an accurate picture of bird populations and informing successful, voluntary conservation efforts across the region.

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies contacts landowners or managers in the survey areas by mail early in the year. The correspondence includes a permission request letter and provides information about the IMBCR program, a map showing the exact survey locations on the property and a self-addressed stamped return card. The return card provides a quick and easy way for the landowner to provide information about the survey location, and most importantly, give their consent to access the property. If a return card is not received, Bird Conservancy staff attempt to contact landowners by phone to seek permission.

After obtaining landowner permission to access a survey location, one or two scientists visit the site once a year for a few hours in the morning. They walk to specific points within the survey location, collect habitat data, count birds and record those numbers for analysis and comparison with other years’ data. A follow up letter is sent to each private landowner that includes a list of every bird species observed at the survey location.

Deliverables and Applications

The state-of-the-art sampling design of IMBCR addresses the conservation and management needs of a wide range of stakeholders, including landowners and government entities at both local and regional scales. Protocols are managed to help partners collect data under a consistent framework, and partners meet annually to discuss program outcomes. An annual accomplishments report, including density and occupancy estimates at both local and regional scales, is also provided.

Learn More

For more information about this program, download the IMBCR for PLJV partner brochure and listen to the following episodes of the Playa Country radio show featuring Bird Conservancy of the Rockies staff and a participating landowner.

Contact Us

For information about IMBCR for PLJV or to become a part of the program, contact:

Mike Carter, PLJV Coordinator

For information about Bird Conservancy of the Rockies (BCR), the larger IMBCR program and how data are gathered and used, contact:

Matthew McLaren, BCR IMBCR Coordinator
970-482-1707 x 22

For information about technicians, survey areas and other field logistics, contact:

Brittany Woiderski, BCR Field Crew Leader
970-482-1707 x 34

For information about private property access and landowner concerns, contact:

Jenny Berven, BCR Landowner Liaison
970-482-1707 x 26