URI, RIDEM to launch Breeding Bird Atlas to document bird life in Rhode Island

Project seeks volunteers; orientation meeting Dec. 12

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 19, 2015 – The University of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management are seeking volunteers to participate in the state’s second bird atlas – an effort to map the distribution and abundance of birds in the Ocean State. Organizers of the five-year Rhode Island Bird Atlas 2.0 will hold a kickoff meeting for potential volunteers on Dec. 12 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Coastal Institute building on the URI Kingston campus.

“The volunteer effort for the first atlas did an excellent job of yielding data that told us where birds were found in the state, but analyses were limited by technology,” said Charles Clarkson, DEM-URI project coordinator. “Now we have the ability to map habitats and create spatially explicit models of how birds utilize the landscape, technologies that didn’t exist in the ‘80s. So this time we will be able to get a more comprehensive picture of the way birds are using the state of Rhode Island.”

A bird atlas serves as a baseline against which future surveys can be compared to determine what changes have occurred in bird distribution and abundance. Identifying where the birds are located and their density are critical to understanding how habitat loss, human development and other issues are affecting birds.

The atlas divides the state into 165 blocks, each 10 square miles in size, and volunteers will seek to document all bird species that breed in, winter in, and migrate through each block.

For the breeding portion of the atlas, participants will be asked to visit all habitats in each atlas block during May, June and July – the primary breeding months – with the goal of confirming breeding for as many species as possible. Visits during other months will be required for some species that breed earlier or later in the year. These surveys can be accomplished in a single breeding season or spread out over multiple years.

Bird atlases got their start in the 1960s in Great Britain, and the idea soon spread to the United States. Sixty-eight volunteers participated in Rhode Island’s first Breeding Bird Atlas from 1982 to 1987, documenting 164 bird species, of which 155 were confirmed to nest in the state. The Bird Atlas 2.0 will allow researchers to conduct a change analysis to determine how bird distribution has changed since the last atlas.

The new atlas is expected to document several changes to Rhode Island’s list of breeding birds. Species such as northern bobwhite and sora, for example, have experienced drastic declines and may no longer breed in the state. And common raven – a species not recorded during the previous atlas – will likely be one addition to the list of the state’s breeding birds.

“Because of Rhode Island’s small size and large base of volunteers, we’re also planning to document birds found here in winter and during migration,” Clarkson said. “Rhode Island provides important habitat for some wintering species, especially waterfowl, and it’s also an important staging area for migrants.”

The orientation Saturday, Dec. 12, will provide an overview of the project and its significance, as well as the history of breeding bird atlases. Additional meetings will be held throughout the state to train volunteers on the details of how and when to collect data and how to submit their data. Bird enthusiasts at all skill levels are encouraged to participate.

For more information on the Rhode Island Bird Atlas 2.0 and kickoff meeting, visit Bird Atlas or contact Charles Clarkson at 434-466-3650 or clarksonce@uri.edu.