A companion to Northwest Science & Technology for kids.Spring 2006

# Bird Survey In Your Own Backyard

Seabirds spend most of their lives far outside the view of most people. But you probably see other types of birds every day: sparrows hop around outside your home, starlings sit in trees downtown, pigeons fly through city parks.

Birds in general have a lot to tell scientists. They're useful study subjects because they are important members of many ecosystems, they're easy to see (and relatively easy to identify), and their disappearance or appearance may reflect environmental changes. Some of the most important biological findings have come from the study of birds. Charles Darwin studied finches on the Galapagos Islands, and it was the variation in the beaks of these finches that led him to think about natural selection. (Though, in fairness to iguanas and whatnot, birds weren't the only thing he looked at.)

In a small way, you're about the join in this grand tradition of bird-watching. One of the basic ways that scientists tell which birds are where and how many there are is by doing a survey. After several months, or even years, of surveys, scientists have a glimpse into the population dynamics of the study area. They can answer questions such as: When do certain species of birds tend to arrive in an area? Do they breed here, or just pass through? When do they leave? Are their numbers fluctuating, or are they stable? Did a species disappear from the area altogether, and if so, why? Once they have this information, scientists can begin to ask more complicated questions about habitat quality, such as how human-induced changes in an area might affect certain species.

Here's the Bird Survey Protocol:

1. Decide on a location or several locations to study near your home, school, or in a nearby park. Assign a number to each location. Position the sampling locations next to different habitat types, such as in trees, in the middle of a lawn, near asphalt, and so on.

2. Mark out a circle with a radius of 20 meters from the center of the location(s) you've selected. Make sure there are no large obstacles, like a wall, within the circle.

3. Write a brief habitat description on your data sheet for the area in each circle.

4. Decide on a time of day to do your survey, and always do it at that same time of day. The best time is usually fairly early (before 9:30 a.m.), but if several people do it throughout the day, you can see how time of day affects bird behavior.

5. Census the point once or twice a week for at least four consecutive weeks--that is, count all the birds in the survey area and note what they are doing for five minutes. Record every bird, and be sure to mark whether it is within 20 meters, more than 20 meters away, or simply flying overhead.

6. Use the data sheet to record the number of individuals of each species that you see during the count period and what they are doing. Count each bird only once.

Observer's Name: _______________________________

Site ID: _______________________________________

Date of Survey: _________________________________

Habitat Description: ______________________________________________________________

Cloud Cover: none scattered overcast Temperature:___________?C

Start Time: ____:____ AM PM End Time: _____:_____ AM PM

Species Within 20 meters Over 20 meters Fly-over Behaviors

______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________

Results:

Much of science begins with an observed pattern. What sort of patterns, if any, emerge here? What species of birds do you see most frequently?

Are there particular behavior patterns based on time of day or month? Singing? Carrying nest material? Carrying food? What other questions would you like to explore based on this experience?

What did you learn from your survey?