Birds of Wisconsin, Citizen Science

Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II

The snow may still be flying, but several bird species are displaying behavior that reminds us that spring really is just around the corner. Northern Cardinals are pairing up, crows and Red-tailed Hawks are building nests, and Great Horned Owls are already incubating eggs. If you observe such behavior at Schlitz Audubon, you’re in good company. The Center is one of the top spots in the state for observations submitted to the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas II (WBBA II).

Administered through eBird, the Atlas is a five-year survey that aims to document the abundance and distribution of every bird species that breeds throughout Wisconsin. It is the follow-up to a first Atlas conducted from 1995 to 2000. Information collected during that period is still used in species conservation and land management planning today. But changes in land use, range expansion of invasive species, and changes in the environment continue to have impacts on our birdlife, other wildlife, and natural resources. The atlas will play a key role in assessing some of those impacts for all Wisconsin bird species.

Since 2015, more than 1,800+ volunteer birders have submitted observations to WBBA II. They have documented over 6.6 million birds of 242 species, including 12 species that were not found breeding in Wisconsin at all during the first atlas!

Breeding Bird Atlas at the Schlitz Audubon

At Schlitz Audubon, over 100 observers, including the Center’s Graphic Designer Zoe Finney, have spent more than 770 hours on the project to date right here at the Center. This dedication is both admirable and astounding. But, in terms of WBBA II, Schlitz Audubon—and most of Southeast Wisconsin—is considered complete. It generally takes about 20 hours to complete an Atlas “block.” This means Schlitz Audubon’s block has racked up enough hours to be completed almost 40 times over. That’s why this year, the final season of the Atlas, survey organizers are encouraging those within Schlitz Audubon’s enthusiastic birding community to take on a new challenge by heading to other parts of the state. WBBA II needs your help!

How to Get Involved with the Atlas

To bring birders together and energize volunteers for the final season of data collection, WBBA II organizers are convening a Kickoff Event from April 5–7 in Stevens Point.

“The kickoff is a great time for motivated volunteers to meet with county coordinators so we can all strategize on how to efficiently finish the remaining blocks,” says Nick Anich, lead coordinator of the Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas survey and conservation biologist with the WI Department of Natural Resources. “The biggest remaining gaps are in northern and western Wisconsin, but there are still opportunities in every area of the state to help.”

The weekend will feature 17 presentations, beginning with an optional “Atlasing 101” session on Friday afternoon, and runs through noon on Sunday. Topics range from an overview of project results to date, how-to tips for uncovering secretive species, and a Q&A session.

Attendees will also meet Ian Davies, one of the “Big 4” coordinators with eBird at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Last spring in Quebec, he observed 700,000+ warblers in one day. At the Kickoff, Davies will address atlasing in the era of eBird. He will also discuss how Wisconsin has paved the way for the next generation of atlases being conducted now in Virginia and Maine, and forthcoming efforts in New York and even New Zealand!

A Birds & Beers social event at Central Waters Brewpub, and morning and nocturnal field trips to look for species like Prairie-Chickens and Snowy Owls, will round out the weekend.

“This statewide effort is critical for conserving the birds of Wisconsin. It is important that anyone with an interest in Wisconsin’s birds considers joining the effort. The Kickoff is a great way for newcomers to the project to get up to speed, and for veteran atlasers to learn how they can delve deeper into the project this year,” says Anich.

To register for the April 5-7 Kickoff Event, visit the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology registration page. Pre-registration closes March 15.