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For Release: Tuesday, March 24, 2020

DEC Seeks Birdwatchers to Contribute to 2020 Breeding Bird Atlas

Data Helps Determine Population Trends, Climate Change Impacts, Habitat Loss, and Other Factors on Bird Populations, Just as 2020 Census Will Help Understand Important Population Trends in New York State

Volunteers Encouraged to Submit Observations of New York's Breeding Birds, Practice Social Distancing to Observe Birds Safely during COVID-19 Public Health Crisis

State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today announced a call for citizen science volunteers to help in the development of a comprehensive, statewide survey that takes place every two decades to detail New York's breeding bird distribution. Starting in 2020, five years of field surveys will be conducted by volunteers and project partners to provide the data that will be analyzed to create the third New York State Breeding Bird Atlas.

"Just as New Yorkers are embarking on the 2020 Census to track human populations and trends, DEC and our partners track our natural populations to evaluate the effectiveness of New York's programs and initiatives to promote diverse and healthy wildlife," Commissioner Seggos said. "The Breeding Bird Atlas is a valuable tool to help protect birds and habitat, and I encourage all New Yorkers to get outdoors safely and responsibly and participate in this year's survey while practicing social distancing."

New York will be the first state in the nation to implement a third breeding bird atlas. In addition to detailing the current distribution of breeding birds in the State, the data can be used to evaluate trends in distribution and species abundance, as well as assess the response of various species to climate change. These changes in distribution help identify species that may be in trouble and allow for the development of management programs to help address those declines.

DEC is partnering with the New York Natural Heritage Program, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF), Audubon New York, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, New York State Ornithological Association, and New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit on this project. When complete, the atlas will provide species-specific details about distribution, maps, and illustrations.

The last atlas was published in 2008, with information on its results available on DEC's website. Five years of fieldwork by more than 1,200 contributors provided the data for the second addition to New York's understanding of the state's avifauna (birds). This substantial book revealed striking changes in the distributions of many of our breeding birds since New York's first Breeding Bird Atlas was published in 1988. Data showed that half of New York's 253 species showed a significant change in their distribution, with 70 species showing increases and 58 species showing declines. A comparison study between the first two atlases showed that the distribution of 129 species moved northward an average of 3.58 kilometers due to climate change. The 2020 atlas will provide further data on this shift and climate change's potential impact on wildlife.

To participate, volunteers can make a free eBird account and submit data online through the atlas website (leaves DEC's website) or via the eBird mobile app. Simply record the species and any breeding behaviors observed. All sightings can count. As observations are reported, data can be viewed on the atlas website (leaves DEC's website).

Ana Paula Tavares, Executive Director of Audubon New York, said, "The Breeding Bird Atlas helps our scientists answer essential questions that lead to real results for birds. Audubon has used Atlas data to help identify Important Bird Areas and grassland bird focus areas, and to implement forest management where it provides the greatest help to woodland birds. It's incredible to think that anyone, anywhere in New York, can help effect widespread change by entering simple data into eBird."

Ian Davies, eBird Project Leader at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said, "Data entry is easy. Anyone can create a free eBird account and submit data online through the atlas website (leaves DEC's website) or with the eBird mobile app. Simply record the species and any breeding behaviors observed."

"This announcement and request for participation could not come at a better time," said Dr. Dave Amberg, Interim President of the SUNY ESF. "Birding is an excellent activity - safe and stress-relieving - for these challenging times and the impact of the data collected by the citizen scientists will provide pivotal data for those studying climate change. A comparison study between the first two atlases showed that many species have already moved northward. The 2020 atlas will further document the impacts of global change on New York's birds."

Julie Hart, Project Coordinator with the New York Natural Heritage Program, said, "This is a unique opportunity for anyone to learn about birds while contributing valuable data for conservation. I encourage all bird enthusiasts to participate and tune in to the breeding birds that raise their families here in New York State."

In addition to helping monitor breeding birds, DEC encourages all New Yorkers to get counted by participating in the 2020 Census, the nation's once-per-decade, constitutionally-mandated count of every American, regardless of their citizenship status. The decennial census is one of the nation's most important programs. New Yorkers' fair share of federal funds for programs essential to health care, education, housing, economic development and transportation, as well as our congressional representation in Washington, all depend on an accurate and fully-counted census response. Governor Cuomo has committed resources up to $70 million to develop a comprehensive, collaborative and ongoing effort to identify hard-to-count populations and identify the most effective ways to encourage participation in the census. These efforts included the creation of the New York State Complete Count Commission and the New York State Complete Census Campaign to inform counties and community-based organizations about how to apply for available State funding as well as best practices to coordinate efforts and resources to reach at-risk and hard-to-count communities.

While enjoying the outdoors, please continue to follow the CDC/New York State Department of Health guidelines (leaves DEC's website) for preventing the spread of colds, flu, and COVID-19:

  • Try to keep at least six (6) feet of distance between you and others.
  • Avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, kissing, or sharing equipment like binoculars.
  • Wash hands often or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, handrails, and playground equipment.
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