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Sometimes, learning how to conserve bird habitat comes from counting birds and gathering data on bird populations.
A new program developed several years ago enhances previous survey methods by collecting information about the habitat where birds are found, as well as collecting information on bird numbers and species. This bird count is conducted in spring and early summer when birds are singing a lot.
“While they’re in the process of making nests and laying eggs, that’s when they are really defending territory vigorously. That’s when they’re out singing and you can detect as many of them as possible.”
For the landowner who’s suspicious of letting bird counters on the land, scientists say that more accurate population information can keep birds off the endangered species list.
That’s biologist Chris White of Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. The survey attempts to gather data from random locations across the land, and that often includes privately-owned property.
“We give each of our technicians a list of survey locations and say, ‘Hey, you have to figure out how to get out here. There’s landowners that we need to contact.’ We secure permission from landowners before we actually go out there.”
To get statistically-valid samples of birds, it’s necessary to collect some data on private land, whether it’s a ranch — or a backyard in the suburbs.
At Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, it’s Jenny Bervin’s job to contact landowners. She says the easy conversations are with landowners who’ve permitted access in the past.
“Some of them are very interested in what we’re doing. Some are suspicious; they do want to know our motivations. And then, other landowners think it is totally awesome and they’ll tell us where we can find those birds.”
Private landowners often shudder when there’s talk of listing a critter on the endangered species list. The rules that follow a listing can impede ranching activities.
For the landowner who’s suspicious of letting bird counters on the land, scientists say that more accurate population information can keep birds off the endangered species list. Christopher Rustay, Conservation Delivery Leader for Playa Lakes Joint Venture, cites the example of the Long-billed Curlew.
“Once we started surveying for Long-billed Curlew — we thought the population was less than 20,000 birds — and we discovered there was more likely to be 120,000 birds. So, not a species that should be considered for listing.”
Playa Lakes Joint Venture is helping extend this program of data-gathering across the six prairie-grass states in its service area. There’s good reason. Of all bird species in the U.S., the biggest population declines have been among species of grassland birds — those that populate our neck of the woods.
Mike Carter is the Joint Venture coordinator.
“We already have the monitoring data telling us that there’s been big declines. The importance of this program is that it tells us what habitat should look like to reverse those declines — what kind of habitat should we be making to reverse those declines.”
Diane VanLandingham is a landowner south of LaJunta. She was eager to have bird surveyors gather data on her ranchland. The bird counters found lots of birds![Bird song]
“Mourning Doves, Mockingbirds, Barn Swallows, Hawks, Quail, Barn Owls, Great Horned Owls, Loggerhead Shrikes, Meadowlarks, Lark Buntings… of course, I saw the Roadrunner a few weeks ago. King birds were chasing the Roadrunner down the driveway the last time I saw him.”
Playa Country, which ended in late 2016, was a weekly show that featured conservation and wildlife experts — as well as farmers, ranchers and land managers — talking about conservation practices that improve wildlife habitat and landowners’ bottom-line. Thanks to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, in Ithaca New York, for featured bird songs. Originally broadcast in September 2015.