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Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas

Fri, Apr 10th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

On March 19, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, invasive species and other threats.

"Just as they were when Rachel Carson published 'Silent Spring'

nearly 50 years ago, birds today are a bellwether of the health of land, water and ecosystems," Salazar said. "We must work together now to ensure we never hear the deafening silence in our forests, fields and backyards that Rachel Carson warned us about."

One important bird conservation project, the creation of a Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA), has just begun and will continue for the next five years. The work is overdue since we are one of only seven states that has not developed an atlas.The project seeks to identify every species that breeds in our state and the areas in which it breeds. To accomplish these goals, hundreds of volunteers will conduct surveys and document any breeding behavior they observe. The data will then be used to create maps that show the occurrence and breeding status of all species in the state and provide base-line information for monitoring future changes to bird populations. This information will lend support to conservation planning.

Because the MNBBA depends on the participation of citizen scientists, it provides opportunities for birdwatchers throughout the state to contribute. Atlas Surveyors sign up for one or more Priority Blocks, which are the northeast quadrant of every township. Surveyors need to be familiar with birds in their area, but do not need to be experts. They must locate and find access to each habitat type in their blocks, then go out and record breeding behavior, which will require about 25 hours of active surveying from roughly early April through early August. A surveyor's handbook provides instructions and forms to complete.

For anyone with a more casual interest in birds, becoming a Field Observer is a good way to participate. Field Observers may contribute incidental observations from anywhere in the state, from parks, backyards or favorite hiking trails.

Fillmore County residents could find participation in the MNBBA significantly rewarding. According to the Minnesota County Biological Survey, Fillmore is the most biologically diverse county in the state and is rich in bird-life. I became a birdwatcher 25 years ago when I lived in the Big Woods in Amherst Township. The birds in the woods drew my attention because there were so many of them. As I began to identify the different species, I was amazed at how many there were and wondered how I could have missed them for so much of my life. Now, I want others to feel the same joy I feel when watching our flying neighbors and to be drawn from birds to an interest in other wildlife, wildflowers, trees and ecosystems and then to realize the importance of conserving our increasingly threatened natural world.

The decline of bird populations in the U.S. indicates flaws in the ways we treat our environment, which arise to some extent from not feeling we are part of the natural world. Our technology increasingly isolates us from the rest of nature. We buy much of our food pre-packaged in stores without thinking about its source. We may only step on the earth as a means to get into our cars. Computers replace reality with virtual reality.

To feel connected, we need to walk in the fields and woods, sit on a log, stick our feet in a stream, let the stream hypnotize. If we watch a hummingbird build her tiny bowl of a nest, we cannot help but feel that she has a right to be here. We wonder what in the world taught her this skill and as we watch, we suddenly get a glimpse of how the world works, something we can never get from a computer.

A beneficial way to increase connection to the outdoor environment is to participate in the MNBBA Survey in whatever way you are able. All the information you need is online at www.mnbba.org.

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