Bird Breeding Atlas

Bird Watching from Indoors (Photo: MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr)

Want to contribute to a scientific project while doing something you may already love? Then sign up to start providing data for New York’s Bird Breeding Atlas.

This initiative, spearheaded by the New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Ornithological Association, Audubon New York, state Department of Environmental Conservation and others, takes place every 20 years. For this third iteration of the atlas, observers will record data from now through 2024.

More than a count, the atlas yields important information about changes to birds’ habitats by documenting where they mate and nest. The last atlas, released in 2008, concluded that over half of New York’s 253 species experienced a significant change in their distribution since the previous atlas, with 70 species increasing and 58 declining.  

Bird Watching from Indoors (Photo: MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr)
Bird Watching from Indoors (Photo: MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr)

New this year, observers will submit their information to ebird, an online platform managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Described as the “world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project,” ebird collects and archives data from more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year. It even allows individual observers to keep an ongoing record of their sightings.

Via ebird, participants in the New York Bird Breeding Atlas will record not only the species observed but share information about their calls as well as evidence of breeding and nesting. You don’t even need to leave home. Data about birds in your backyard—and those of your next-door neighbors—are just as critical as those gathered further afield. For some ABCs, click here.

Who benefits from your sightings? Along with the groups that advocate for protecting bird habitat, including Scenic Hudson, it provides vital information for scientists researching everything from climate change to socioeconomics. You also stand to gain: Contributing to the Bird Breeding Atlas provides another reason to grab the binoculars and keep tabs on your feathered friends.

Red, White & Bluebird

Male Eastern Bluebird (Photo: Patricia Pierce on Flicker (CC by 2.0))

“When nature made the blue-bird she wished to propitiate both the sky and the earth, so she gave him the color of the one on his back and the hue of the other on his breast.” —John Burroughs

Spotting a male eastern bluebird adds a special thrill to any outdoor excursion. Its patriotic plumage — vivid blue back, rusty red breast and white belly — makes it one of the most colorful animals in the natural world. Perhaps for this reason, it has the rare honor of being the official bird of two states: New York and Missouri.

While a treat for birdwatchers, the male eastern bluebird’s beauty has a more important function — to attract a female bluebird. To prove he’s a responsible mate, he takes some very rudimentary strides to build a nest in a tree cavity, often a hole created by a woodpecker. He spends most of his time perched near the hole, flapping his azure wings to “hook” an interested female. He leaves it entirely up to her to complete the housekeeping — gathering and fitting together the twigs and grasses to build the cup-shaped nest.

Once the 3 to 7 eggs in a typical brood hatch, the male helps feed the young. The normal bluebird diet consists of insects, fruits and berries, although they have been known to chow down on salamanders, snakes and tree frogs.

Unlike most bird species, eastern bluebirds typically hatch two broods a season. The first batch is pushed out of the nest in the summer. Those born in the second hatching tend to overwinter with their parents. Sadly Eastern bluebirds have a very high mortality rate — most die within the first year of life from starvation, freezing or falling prey to other animals. Still, their overall population has remained relatively stable.

How can you help Eastern bluebirds? If your yard is relatively open — they don’t like shady, forested areas — consider building a nest box.  You can find tips for this here. And stop using pesticides: the bluebirds will take care of your lawn’s insects.