Memorandum to Cooperators
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
12100 Beech Forest Road
Laurel, MD 20708-4038
 SUMMER 1996

1995 NEWS
This past year was certainly eventful for those of us working for the Federal Government. A very positive event for the BBS was the addition of a second biologist to the office during October.   Keith Pardieck joined the BBS after spending the previous five years working with the Puerto Rico Research Group for the USFWS/NBS. In Puerto Rico, he assisted in research obtaining information for the recovery of the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot.  He was also involved with research on other endemic Puerto Rican birds, such as mist netting and radio-tracking Puerto Rican Screech-Owls and conducting point count censuses of the Elfin Woods Warbler.  While he has spent the past few years dealing with species that are unfamiliar to most of us, he will now have an opportunity to re-acquaint himself with the North American avifauna. Keith is a native of Indiana, having received both a B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana University, so his re-adjustment to life in the states should not be too difficult.

 For the BBS, Keith's responsibilities will include assuming many of the day-to-day administrative duties for the survey.  So if you encounter problems before or during your survey and need to talk with somebody in the BBS office for advice, feel free to contact Keith at:

 (301) 497-5843

For e-mail, his address is:


 I will remain actively involved with the BBS for the foreseeable future.  During this year, I will help Keith as he faces the mountain of data for the first time.  I should also have more time to devote to the preparation of papers and reports summarizing various aspects of the BBS data, as well as the expansion of the BBS home page and related home pages on the World Wide Web.  I can be contacted at:

 (301) 497-5841

The name of the Patuxent Research Center has been changed again, but the address remains:

 Breeding Bird Survey
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
 12100 Beech Forest Rd.
 Laurel, MD  20708-4038
 FAX: (301) 497-5784
 Before discussing this year's coverage, I must issue an apology.  For years, this newsletter has reported coverage totals for both the U.S. and Canada, assuming that our computer was correctly programmed to know which routes belonged to which country.  Last year, Connie Downes, the BBS coordinator for the Canadian Wildlife Service, called to our attention the fact that the Canadian totals we were reporting in our newsletter were more than 100 routes lower than her totals.  Looking into this discrepancy, it appears that our computer had apparently made Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd states, respectively.  We have sent our computer back to geography class, so the 1995 coverage totals are correct.  We apologize to our Canadian colleagues for the error.

 3000 or bust.  For the first time in BBS history, the BBS surpassed the 3000 plateau for routes surveyed during a single year.  At this time, a total of 3011 routes have been returned to the BBS office, a total that will undoubtedly inch slightly higher as some late returns trickle in.  This number represents a 2.7% increase over the 1994 effort.  Improved coverage in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec reflects greater participation on existing routes and the creation of some new routes.  Coverage in the U.S. was similar to 1994, even though several western states experienced an unusually deep snow pack and excessive rainfall in June that prevented a number of surveys from being completed.  The state and provincial coverage totals for 1995 are summarized below:

State/    No. Routes    %
    Prov.    1994   1995   Change
    AL        65     66      1.5
    AK        76     75     -1.3
    AB        83     92      9.8
    AZ        49     56     12.5
    AR        32     31     -3.1
    BC        57     64     12.3
    CA       136    150      9.3
    CO        83     87      4.6
    CT        13     13      0.0
    DE         9      9      0.0
    FL        81     73     -9.8
    GA        56     50    -10.7
    ID        52     51     -1.9
    IL        79     77     -2.5
    IN        36     33     -8.3
    IA        22     26     18.2
    KS        35     35      0.0
    KY        27     28      3.7
    LA        32     33      3.1
    NWT        0      1    100.0
    ME        49     51      3.9
    MB        31     40     22.5
    MD        55     57      3.6
    MA        21     18    -14.3
    MEXICO    28     33     15.2
    MI        71     62    -12.7
    MN        63     66      4.8
    MS        18     17     -5.6
    MO        43     42     -2.3
    MT        55     55      0.0
    NE        31     35     12.9
    NV        23     22     -4.3
    NB        13     15     13.3
    NL         2      7    250.0
    NH        23     22     -4.3
    NJ        26     25     -3.8
    NM        60     57     -5.0
    NY        82     79     -3.7
    NC        52     55      5.5
    ND        34     37      8.8
    NS        17     22     22.7
    OH        62     61     -1.6
    OK        57     51    -10.5
    ON        91     95      4.2
    OR        97     92     -5.2
    PA        89     96      7.3
    PEI        2      2      0.0
    PQ        47     59     20.3
    RI         1      1     0.0
    SK        29     28    -3.4
    SC        12     13     8.3
    SD        34     38    11.8
    TN        37     40     7.5
    TX       132    139     5.0
    UT        53     56     5.7
    VT        19     20     5.0
    VA        57     57     0.0
    WA        74     72    -2.7
    WV        38     46    21.1
    WI        70     65    -7.1
    WY        80     85     5.9
    YK        17     16    -5.9
    PARKS     10     10     0.0

By country, the totals are 2537 routes for the U.S., 441 for Canada, and 33 for Mexico in 1995.  We thank all of the BBS observers and their assistants for their efforts last year, and hope that  coverage totals will continue to improve during 1996.

Since its appearance on the internet slightly more than a year ago, the popularity of the North American Breeding Bird Survey Results and Analysis home page has soared.  During the year, we have started to add photographs and bird song tapes/calls to the complete summary of BBS trend data.  In the most recent version, we have added a "clickable" map to display trend estimates by states and provinces, as well as some species accounts summarizing the trend information.  There is also a program that will allow the user to calculate trends for time periods other than those that are routinely estimated.

The BBS Results and Analysis home page is being transferred to anew server, so that by the time you receive this notice, its address will have changed slightly.  The new address is:

Additional improvements are planned for the coming year.  We will continue to add photos and songs/calls as we obtain them.  A complete set of species accounts are being prepared.  We also plan to provide maps for each state that show the locations of all active and inactive BBS routes.  These maps will eventually be linked to route-specific data, so the user will be able to obtain average counts and trend information for each species from the individual routes.  However, the development of these route-specific data sets will require considerable effort, and may not become available for a year or longer.

We have also created two related home pages that may be of interest to BBS volunteers.  We have developed a home page for Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data, providing relative abundance maps and some preliminary trend analyses. We have also developed a home page devoted to grassland birds, a product created for the grassland birds symposium held in Tulsa, Oklahoma this past October.  The grassland birds home page combines both BBS and CBC trend information for these species.  Both of these home pages can be accessed through the address for the BBS home page.

There have been no changes in the state/provincial coordinators during the past year.  With the death of Tom Imhof, Robert Reid has become the sole coordinator for Alabama.  Tom Imhof had been actively involved with the BBS since its inception in 1966, and contributed thousands of hours towards the success of the program.  He was the "dean" of Alabama birders, and his loss will be fealt throughout the southeast.

The BBS honor roll has increased to 59 observers who conducted 5 or more surveys in 1995.  David Holmes remains are most devoted single observer, conducting 15 surveys in DE, MD, and PA.  The title for most routes surveyed by a husband and wife team is easily won by Steve and Barbara Stedman, who combine for 20 surveys in WV, KY, TN, and FL.  In addition to Steve Stedman who surveys 13 routes, other observers conducting 8 or more surveys this year are Brad Andres (AK), Vernon Kleen (IL), Sandy Williams (NM), Richard Peterson (SD), and John White (FL).  Our thanks to these people who remain deeply committed to the BBS, and to everybody who conducted a survey in 1995.

Vernon Kleen, the BBS coordinator for Illinois, will surpass a different milestone in 1996.  After finishing his 1995 surveys, Vern had completed a total of 197 BBS routes in the state since 1970.  He should easily surpass the 200 routes surveyed plateau this year.  If there are others with equally impressive records of service for the BBS, we would like to hear about them.
 With each year, BBS data becomes an increasingly valuable source of bird population trend information.  For example, the National Biological Service's Status and Trends Program published a book entitled "Our Living Resources" in 1995, which summarizes the status and trend information for plants, animals and ecosystems across the United States.  Birds feature prominently in this book, and the BBS was the source of most trend information used by the authors discussing bird populations.  The lead article was a summary of the 1966-1992 BBS trend data by Peterjohn, Sauer, and Orsillo.  Copies of this book can be obtained from the Government Printing Office at the following address:

 Supt. of Documents
 P.O. Box 371954
 Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954

Other BBS-related articles were published during 1995.  The Proceedings of the First International Shrike Symposium (Shrikes of the World: Biology and Conservation) includes two papers from the BBS:
--Population trends of the Loggerhead Shrike from the North American Breeding Bird Survey.
--Geographic patterns in relative abundances and population trends of breeding and wintering
    Loggerhead Shrikes in North America.

People with an interest in the international conservation issues facing all species of shrikes can obtain the complete proceedings from:

Western Foundation of Vert. Zoology
439 Calle San Pablo
Camarillo, CA 93012

Other articles include a summary of Purple Martin population trends that appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of the journal of the Purple Martin Conservation Association.  An article summarizing BBS trends of Neotropical migrants appeared as a chapter in the book "Ecology and Management of Neotropical Migratory Birds: A Synthesis and Review of Critical Issues" edited by T.E. Martin and D.M. Finch and published by Oxford University Press.  Lastly, an article entitled "Reliability of the Breeding Bird Survey: Effects of restricting surveys to roads" by Jon Bart, Matthias Hofschen, and Bruce Peterjohn (Auk 112:758-761) examines the question of roadside bias in the change in woodland habitats along BBS routes in portions of Ohio. Copies of individual articles can be obtained from the BBS office.

Classifying habitats along BBS routes by E. Dunn and P. Blancher
BBS participants often refer to routes stops by the special birds that occur there.  However, urbanization or other changes may alter these habitats such that the distinctive birds decline or disappear.  Because the BBS has no record of habitats along routes, we are unable to determine how much of a role changes in habitats may play in long-term regional trends.

 Although we are aware of the value of habitat data, we have not resolved the problem of how to obtain it.  Analyses of satellite images and aerial photos are one possibility, but these studies require much expertise, time, money, and are best applied at small geographic scales.  The most practical method appears to be asking BBS participants to classify habitats according to a simple standardized scheme.  In 1981 and 1982, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) requested participants to classify habitats at 10 stops along their BBS routes.  This system was not tested first, unfortunately, and there were some problems with these data.  More recently, Colorado applied Breeding Bird Atlas habitat codes to BBS stops.

Last year, the CWS office decided to revisit this issue.  We designed a simple habitat classification system along the lines of the previous USFWS study.  Several of us tested this system, and quickly discovered that it is not easy to write instructions that are unambiguous.  These tests indicated that estimates of habitat coverage may differ by 10 to 20%, which will only allow us to detect major habitat changes.

After revising this system, 20 people from various parts of Canada and Maryland applied it to their BBS routes.  Each stop required 3-5 minutes to classify, which means that these data should not be collected at the same time as the bird counts (unless an assistant does the job).

We analyzed data from 6 Canadian routes to examine how well they corresponded to the bird communites present at the stops.  The results were encouraging.  Habitat measures explained more than 50% of the variation in bird communities. For example, the percent cover of woodland and agricultural land at the stops were very good at predicting the composition of the bird communities.  Some bird communities were more clearly distinguishable by specific habitat type than by the more general classifications.  For example, lumping freshwater wetland habitats (e.g. marsh, ponds, fens, streams, etc...) into one category would have masked important differences in bird communities.  Analyses also showed that knowledge of which habitats were closest to the stop was important, and that estimates of percent cover by habitat were better than simple presence/absence.

Some caution is needed when drawing conclusions from these results, because the six routes tested did not cover all habitat types nor represent the common habitats in other parts of the continent.  There is still a need to examine how repeatable these habitat measures are within observer over time, and between observers on the same route, to ensure that trends in habitats are meaningful.

Plans for 1996.  Based on this experience, we revised and simplified the scheme.  It now requires about 2-3 minutes per stop.  This spring, all Canadian BBS participants will receive forms and instructions for classifying habitats along portions of their route(s).  Participation is voluntary, and we emphasize that classifying habitats should not be done at the same time as the bird counts.

The CWS is also looking for some participation from BBS observers in the U.S.  Please contact the U.S. BBS office if you are willing to participate.  We are especially interested in participants who conduct surveys in habitats not present in Canada, such as deserts or other habitats in our southern states.  Since the collection of habitat data along BBS routes has been of interest during recent years, we will keep you informed of the progress of this study.
The most remarkable bird sighting of 1995 came from the Adak, AK BBS route.  At least two Eurasian Skylarks established territories on the island last summer, one of which was counted by Lisa Scharf on the survey.  Except for an introduced population on Vancouver Island, BC and nearby areas, this species is a very rare visitor to North America.  Other unusual reports involved White-winged Doves.  One was observed in flight by Bill Busby on the Minneapolis, KS BBS route for a fifth state record.  Another was closer to its established range that was heard by Joe Grzybowski on the Colony, OK BBS route.

Adverse weather presented unexpected problems for many BBS observers in the western states.  Heavy rains turned dirt roads into quagmires, and deep snow prevented access to some of the higher elevations until well after the survey period.  Troy Corman, one of the state coordinators for Arizona, attempted to conduct the Dry Park BBS route on the northern Kaibab Plateau on June 17.  During the second half of his survey, it began to snow quite heavily.  He gave up after an hour and a half delay, when more than an inch of snow had accumulated on the ground.  As he left, Cassin's Finches, Red Crossbills, Black-headed and Evening Grosbeaks were concentrated in the ruts formed by the few passing vehicles while Western Tanagers sang from the snow covered branches of Englemann spruces.  The temperature did not exceed 36 F that day, hardly typical weather anywhere in Arizona during mid-June.

Only a few people reported unexpected events along their BBS route(s), such as Mary Gustafson and myself along the Strange Creek, WV BBS route.  About half way through the route, the county sheriff pulled up behind our car as Mary was finishing a stop.  After the predictable conversation about what we were doing stopped along the road in rural West Virginia early on Sunday morning, he informed us that the sheriff department was actively involved in a high speed chase with a fugitive from justice.  Since they were chasing the suspect at speeds approaching 100 mph (on roads where 35 mph could do serious damage to a car), he thought it would be a good idea if we pulled completely off the road whenever we stopped.  We heeded his advice, and were thankful that we did not encounter this chase during the survey.

After completing 40 stops, we encountered multiple sheriff cars along the road.  The same sheriff informed us that the fugitive had ditched his car, and was being pursued on foot across the surrounding wooded hillsides (which just happened to parallel the end of the BBS route.)  After negotiation, he agreed to let us continue the survey but only after warning us of the inherent dangers if we were confronted by the criminal.  The next few stops were rather tense, myself ready for an immediate departure in the event of any suspicious activity.  We did not encounter the criminal, and at these final stops, we were treated to the songs of Wood Thrushes, Cerulean Warblers, and Hooded Warblers interspersed with the howls of bloodhounds.

Along the Sunburst, MT BBS route, Harriet Marble had just finished one of her first stops when a crop duster plane landed on the road just behind her car.  She did not know who was more surprised, herself or the pilot to have almost landed on a car along a rural Montana road at 4:30 AM.

A few observers had some unusual encounters with wildlife.  Along the Flynn, CA route, Vince Yurkunas had a close encounter with a female Costa's Hummingbird that was attracted to the red taillights of his car.  Terry Toppins had the misfortune of hitting a Townsend's Warbler with his car during the Lolo Pass, ID survey.  He picked the bird up, and while his wife held it, they got their best views ever of this species.  Fortunately, the bird was not seriously injured and could be released three stops later.

Chris Hull has a history of unexpected events whenever he conducts his routes in Michigan.  This past year, his arrival at a stop prompted a hen Mallard to flush from the undergrowth where her brood of newly hatched ducklings was hiding.  Her departure caught the attention of a mink, which proceeded to capture, kill and cache some of the young ducklings.  All of this took place while he was trying to conduct his survey, with the disoriented ducklings running around his feet.  The survivors eventually took refuge under his car.  Having caused this predicament, he took the time to shepherd the ducklings to a nearby creek where they were headed with their mother.  Upon completing his route, he returned to the creek in hopes that the female Mallard had returned to her brood.  She had not, and he spent the next three hours trying to capture the orphans for rehabilitation.

First prize for the best new reason for being unable to hear birds at BBS stops goes to Ronda Woodward along the Rugged Mtn., CO route.  She found large heards of elk at two consecutive stops, including many cows with calves.  Their loud calls made hearing singing birds nearly impossible.  Second prize goes to Sarah Mattson, who experienced similar problems with a chorus of howling coyotes along the Barnhouse, OR route.  I am not sure that either observer will receive much sympathy from those  contending with barking dogs, incessant traffic, and blaring music on a regular basis along their routes.

Sightings of non-avian wildlife briefly distracted a few observers.  There were several encounters with moose, of which one along the Maynard, MA route was Eric Salmela's first observation in Massachusetts.  On the Juneau, AK route, Debbie Rudis was puzzled by noises at a stop until she realized they were produced by a school of salmon jumping offshore.  Finally, Colleen Sweeney's descriptions of mule deer fawns and elk calves frolicking in mountain meadows and moose wading in mountain streams lined with wildflowers causes one to wonder how she ever concentrates to count birds along her Idaho routes.

The prize for the most money made along a route this year goes to Nancy Flood and Tom Dickinson at Canoe Point, BC.  One of their stops coincided with the location of a previous night's beer party.  After counting the birds, they took a couple of extra minutes to pick up $1.60 worth of aluminum cans and a $5.00 bill.

Certainly the prize for the most devoted participant goes to Paul Fellers along the Polk City, FL route.  At one stop, he climbed onto the hood of his car to look for Burrowing Owls which regularly nest in the area (this is not recommended BBS methodology).  He fell off the car, and broke his binoculars in the process.  To make matters worse, the owls were not in evidence, either.

Finally, it is difficult to explain why anybody would wake up long before dawn in order to arrive at a locality one-half hour before sunrise to count birds for the next 4.5 hours.  Since most of us will never encounter an Eurasian Skylark or other rarity along our routes, we usually derive pleasure from less sensational observations.  For James and Jean Piland on the Covert, KS route, it is an Indigo Bunting observed at the same stop during nine of the past ten years.  Harvey Johnson on the Milk River, AB route watched a Swainson's Hawk harassing a Golden Eagle at the last stop, allowing him to forget the cold and windy day.  Most observers have a couple of favorite stops or a few "old friends" that make the survey worthwhile.  During your 1996 surveys, we hope you find the habitats  unchanged, some good birds in their expected locations, and favorable weather conditions.