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4. Expand Our Knowledge Base for Conservation

Effective bird conservation must be based on scientific research and strategic monitoring, with timely results provided to managers and policy-makers in a usable format to inform actions. Despite decades of landbird research and monitoring, we still know astonishingly little about the population status and trends, habitats, limiting factors, and causes of population declines for many species of high tri-national concern. The following sections highlight the most important research areas for scientists to focus on in the next decade.

Habitat Requirements for Priority Species

Loss and degradation of habitat is still the most imminent threat to landbirds. Yet, we still need basic information about the habitat and ecological requirements (e.g. food, vegetation, patch size) critical for priority species in all habitats, especially in rapidly diminishing tropical forest. These resources should be available at scales appropriate for management. Improvements in remote sensing and GIS tools can help provide these data, and advances in modeling complex associations and interactions will help us design conservation landscapes at appropriate scales.


Relative abundance estimates for Black-
throated Green Warbler across Canada’s
boreal forest region

Boreal Avian Modelling Project


Modeling habitat relationships

The Boreal Avian Modelling Project partnership is using bird and habitat data from across Canada's boreal forest to assess the habitat needs of boreal birds and to anticipate the impact of rapid environmental change. This work supports the conservation of boreal birds and informs future science efforts. The results will be used to predict avian response to environmental change and habitat loss and to support effective management and monitoring of boreal bird populations.



Full Life-Cycle Connectivity and Limiting Factors

Conservation of migratory birds requires coordinated actions throughout their life cycle. Research should focus on: (1) distribution patterns of migrants throughout the annual cycle; (2) seasonal connectivity between specific breeding and nonbreeding locations, and (3) important factors limiting survival and productivity during the life cycle (e.g., does a bird face its greatest limiting factor during breeding, migration, or winter?). Knowing more about connectivity and limiting factors will enable us to predict consequences of habitat loss and environmental change and target effective conservation actions to benefit migrants and residents.



Migration tracks of an individual Wood Thrush
on its journeys between upstate New York and Nicaragua, based on geolocator data

Reprinted from: Stutchbury et al. 2009, Science 323: 896.


Tracking connectivity

Technological advances allow us to track migration routes, document connectivity, and understand migration patterns. A recent study that used geolocators to study Purple Martins and Wood Thrushes identified the connection between specific breeding and wintering populations and the pace of spring migration. A recent analysis of stable isotopes in Wilson's Warbler feathers documented “leap frog” migration patterns, with those breeding farthest north migrating earliest in fall and wintering farthest south in Central America.



Las Joyas Research Station (foreground)
in the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere
Reserve and the Nevado de Colima
National Park (background) are
Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in western
Mexico that over the past 20 years have
hosted long-term landbird banding and
monitoring training programs.
International collaborative efforts have
allowed hundreds of students,
ornithologists, and land managers from
Mexico, the United States, and Canada
to participate in field courses that have
generated new information on breeding
seasons, habitat selection, site fidelity,
migration schedules, and molt patterns
of endemic and long-distance migratory
Photo by Enrique Jardel Peláez 

Population Status, Trends, Distribution, and Abundance

The population status of many species of highest conservation concern remain poorly known, especially in areas where monitoring has been limited because it is difficult, remote, or expensive. Improving monitoring programs and increasing our understanding of the factors impacting productivity (e.g. breeding success) and survival will assist in identifying key limiting factors. Much new information can be gained by expanding existing, long-term monitoring programs into regions where there are none, notably in Mexico, most of the boreal forest, and the arctic. In other cases new or targeted or non-traditional monitoring programs will be required.

Response to Management Actions, Development, and Environmental Change

Understanding the response of priority birds to human management practices (forestry, agriculture, grazing), development (energy, resorts, urban), and indirect environmental effects (habitat fragmentation, climate change, contaminants) will be a key component in designing and evaluating conservation and mitigation programs. Studying and monitoring priority species’ population and ecological responses to these humanrelated actions and changes, documenting how they function as part of the affected ecosystems, and identifying key mechanisms driving the systems also will be crucial to understanding limiting factors and causes of population declines.

Human-Caused Sources of Mortality

Although trapping wild parrots is now illegal, we must assess whether the new bans are sufficient for recovering populations without supplementary measures. In addition, regulated trapping of other wild birds for the cage-bird trade needs to be tied to effective bird-population monitoring programs. Understanding the population effects of mortality caused by collisions with tall structures (e.g., wind turbines, telecommunication towers, power lines, buildings) and vehicles, as well as predation by cats and other nonnative predators, is essential for changing policy and developing guidelines based on relative risks to priority species. Research also should focus on cumulative and compensatory effects of multiple mortality factors.

Private woodland owners can take
important actions on their properties
to create or maintain bird habitat. A
social scientist interviews a woodland
owner to understand his motivations.
Photo by Chad Johnson

Human Dimensions of Bird Conservation

Although social science has broadly explored people’s relationship to the environment and response to specific issues (e.g., hunting, climate change), we know very little about how and why people relate to birds and bird conservation issues. By understanding the attitudes, knowledge, skills, motivation, and behaviors of existing and potential audiences (e.g., bird watchers, as well as private landowners and policymakers), we can better target conservation solutions that are acceptable to society. We also need to better understand (1) conservation outcomes achieved from birding tourism; (2) societal valuation of ecosystem services; (3) costs and benefits of conservation-oriented management practices; and (4) outcomes of conservation education programs. Integration of social and ecological science in studying bird conservation issues, such as including human population modeling and prediction into bird conservation modeling projects, has yet to be undertaken.

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