U.S. Breeding Bird Survey -- Memo to Participants



--BBS WEB SITE: new look, new features -    BBS data on web





-- NOTES FROM THE FIELD: safety suggestion



The North American Breeding Bird Survey web page has a new look thanks largely to the efforts of Amy Hannigan, who spent many a wee hour securing graphics, optimizing images, and re-organizing the site. Thanks Amy! Besides the new look, there are many great new features too, like:

-- The entire BBS database is now accessible over the web.

-- A BBS bibliography lists over 250 BBS related publications.

-- Species lists and documentation of taxonomy changes within the BBS database.

-- A Mac friendly version of the Internet data entry program.

But let's not forget the old features as well, like state coordinator addresses, route location maps, links to various analyses of BBS data, and the Internet Data Entry & Review programs. We hope you all take the opportunity to explore the site and view the great bird images. Go to:


Internet Data Retrieval -- As mentioned above, the BBS database is accessible over the web. You can now retrieve data from all past runs on a route, not just data from the years you ran the route, via the Internet. Of course, other data can be requested as well, such as all data from a state or all data for a particular species to name a few possibilities. Small data requests will be retrieved within minutes, while larger data requests may necessitate overnight processing. For data requests that are too large to be e-mailed, a series of canned files on our ftp site have been established where the data can be retrieved directly. Full instructions for the data retrieval program can be found at: http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/retrieval/

As you search the database, you will find that all data has been given a run type code. This code indicates whether the data meets BBS criteria. Data from a route may be classified as unacceptable for several reasons: poor weather, late start of route, early start of route, took too long to complete route, more than 10% of the stops not completed, etc. Below we have provided some guidelines for collecting data that will help avoid having your data classified as unacceptable due to inclement weather. When reading these guidelines, remember that when poor weather conditions prevail it is preferable to run the route on a different day. However, if scheduling conflicts limit your ability to commit to a second try keep the following suggestions in mind:

1) Raining at start of route -- Wait up to 30 minutes after official start time for shower to pass. If the shower passes within 30 minutes, run the route.

2) Begins raining after route has been started -- Total time for completion of route should not exceed 6.5 hours. Suspend survey until rain ends then finish route as long as delay will not cause total route time to exceed 6.5 hours. If delay would cause route time to exceed 6.5 hours and scheduling conflicts do not prevent you from committing to a second day, then you have two options: a) redo the entire route on another day (This is recommended if only 10-15 stops have been completed.), or b) return to the point on the route where you left off at the same time on a subsequent day, not more than a week later,and complete the route;  indicate on your field sheet that the route was split between two different days.

3) Too windy -- In non-prairie regions, avoid running the route when wind is greater than Beaufort scale 3. Unless the wind is associated with a storm front, it is unlikely to die down soon. Thus if it does become too windy, the best option is to redo the entire route on another day. However, you may also quit where you are and return to the same stop at the same time on a subsequent day when the wind is not a factor, not more than 7 days later, and complete the route.  Alternatively, if you are above stop forty when the wind kicks up, finish the route but enclose a note with your data indicating when the wind started. For example, if excessive wind did not start until stop 47 we would still use your data even if the final wind speed was Beaufort 5.

Internet Data Entry -- Aside from a few glitches experienced by some participants, the BBS data entry program had a very successful first year. Over one quarter (26%) of the total number of routes processed in 1998 were entered via the data entry program found on the BBS web site. Thanks to everyone who used the program; it was a great help! And we hope this number continues to grow in years to come as Internet access expands and the few remaining bugs are worked out of the program. In that vein, there have been numerous changes made to the program since last summer to improve it. The changes include:  additional navigation buttons within the program, a redesigned vehicle page for quicker loading, and species lists added automatically to new routes. In addition to the changes to last year's data entry program, we have also added a second data entry program that is Mac friendly. So if you had trouble with the program in 1998, please give it another whirl this year and let us know how it goes.



As announced two years ago, the BBS office no longer uses the 8.5" x 14" data summary sheets that were used prior to 1997 to record and report data. Thus, we are no longer sending them out with the spring BBS route packets. However if you used them for your own record keeping and wish to continue to do so, we will gladly send you 15 or 20 copies of the appropriate forms until our supply is depleted. Just send us a note indicating that you would like to receive some summary sheets and we'll send them on a first come, first served basis. Also include in your note which routes you run so that we are sure to send you the correct forms.



Our thanks to all participants for another solid year for the BBS with 2758 completed surveys. This year's total represents a 4.5% decrease in route coverage as compared to last year's total. In the U.S., the number of completed routes fell 3.3% to 2388, while Canadian coverage dropped 11.5% to 370.

As usual inclement weather took its toll on numerous routes throughout the country. This was especially true for observers running "weekend only" routes where rain wreaks havoc on an already limited schedule. In addition, numerous observers that traditionally run 3 or more routes in their respective states were shut out this year due to unforeseen circumstances contributing to the seemingly large declines in some states. The news is not all bad however, the decline is also due in part to a revenge effect of Internet data entry. Some folks are apparently holding on to their data sheets longer with the intention of entering it themselves. But busy schedules soon push the BBS data sheets to the bottom of piles and out of mind. So for anyone still holding on to their 1998 data for any reason, please send it to us now. For future reference, all Internet data entry should be completed by 31 August of the current BBS season.

We expect the total 1998 coverage to rise by 50 or more once the delinquent routes have been returned to our office, bringing us much closer to the 1997 total. However, since breaking the 3000 routes run mark in 1995, the yearly totals have been gradually declining, as if the BBS were experiencing a collective exhale after that monumental effort. Granted the conversion to a new database system took a little wind out of our sails for the last two years, but that is all but behind us now and it is time to renew our efforts to the BBS. Let's each make it a personal challenge to do all that we can to once again break the 3000 route mark by the year 2000!

We steadily climb towards achieving our other millennial goal of increasing the number U.S. routes by 300, which was set in 1997. By this time last year we had added 109 routes. This year we have added 60 more routes thanks to the efforts of the following BBS State Coordinators and their cooperators: Gary Lester in Louisiana -- for a second year in a row, Bill Busby in Kansas, and Ed Hopkins, Jim Cope and John Castrale in Indiana. In addition, approximately 42 more routes are pledged for implementation after the 1999 field season by three additional states. That's a total of 211 routes. We need 89 more to reach our goal! Although route density is determined by the availability of qualified observers, we strongly encourage other state coordinators, especially in the mid-west and west, to consider adding routes.

On a related topic, if you ran a BBS route in 1998 and mailed it to our office but did not receive a summary report or email message confirming receipt by our office, please let us know. It is possible that we never received your data.


1997-1998 Coverage Summary



There have been several changes to the ranks of the state coordinators since our last memo. James Cope has relinquished his role as an Indiana coordinator, and has been replaced by John Castrale who joins Ed hopkins as a co-coordinators for Indiana. In Florida, Jim Cox has also retired as coordinator, leaving those duties to Brian Millsap. In North Carolina, Harry LeGrand has passed the role of state coordinator on to Mark Johns. Additionally, Paul Schwalbe has retired as a coordinator for Pennsylvania, leaving Dan Brauning as the sole coordinator for the state. Our sincere thanks to James, Jim, Harry and Paul for the great work the did for the BBS in their respective states and we wish them well in their future endeavors!


John Castrale                            IN Div. of Fish & Wildlife            RR 2, Box 477                   Mitchell, IN 47446      812-849-4586       Wildlife@kiva.net


Brian Millsap                                  FL Game & Fish Com.                           620 S. Meridian                Tallahassee, FL 32301     904-488-6661  Millsapb@gfc.state.fl.us

North Carolina

Mark Johns                                    NC Wildlife Res. Comm.        Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program                                        PO Box 564                                Cary, NC 27512               919-852-5124 Johnsme@mail.wildlife.state.nc.us

In addition, Ray Adams, the Michigan coordinator, has a new address. He can now be reached at: P.O Box 127, Kalamazoo, MI 49004-0127; email: adamsknc@aol.com.



In November 1997, the BBS office in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a questionnaire to 1850 U.S. BBS participants. The purpose of the questionnaire was to document some basic information on the birding experiences of our cooperators. Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer the survey questions and return the form! The results have now been tallied and highlights of the survey are reported here. In addition, a copy of the survey results, in their entirety, are enclosed in this year's BBS packet; they are also posted on the BBS web site.

True to form (BBS participants are a conscientious group of people.), a total of 1456 (78.7%) of those surveyed responded, a much higher rate of return than you will probably find from most surveys. The majority of participants run 1 (59.5%) or 2 routes (22.4%) while about 10% run 8 or more routes. Most BBSers (98.3%) have been pursuing their interest in birds for 6 or more years, and spend 6 to 10 hours per week in the study of birds (36.7%). Everyone participates, or has participated in, at least one other bird monitoring program; Christmas Bird Counts top the list (23.1%) of other birding activities followed by Breeding Bird Atlases (14.6%). Most participants are professionals in the natural resources field (53.9%), and are employed by a government agency (50.5%). Yet few participants (24.4%) conduct Breeding Bird Surveys as part of their job.

Once again thank you for participating in this survey. We anticipate that similar surveys of BBS participants will be conducted at periodic intervals in the future, since questions related to this information will probably be raised occasionally as the BBS data continues to be used for a wider variety of purposes.



Obviously there is no substitute for getting out in the field if you want to learn to identify birds. But birding tapes, CDs, and computer programs can markedly reduce the learning curve if used in conjunction with hands-on birding. To this end, we now have the Bird Song Master 2.2 computer program and associated audio CDs for use by participants. Contact your state coordinator, or this office, if you are interested in borrowing these materials. Unfortunately, the western bird song companion CD was still unavailable at the time of this writing; it was back ordered and should be available by mid-summer. Typical uses of the program include: practice discerning between species with similar songs such as the Pine Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and Worm-eating Warbler, or refreshing your ears during the long winter months, or simply expanding your repertoire of bird songs. Requirements for use of program include: IBM Compatible Computer, at least 256 color display option, Windows 3.1 or higher, and a CD-ROM drive.



-- Inference methods for spatial variation in species richness and community composition when not all species are detected by James D. Nichols, T. Boulinier, J.E. Hines, K.H. Pollock, J.R. Sauer (Conservation Biology 12:1390-1398)

-- Estimating rates of local species extinction, colonization, and turnover in animal communities by James D. Nichols, T. Boulinier, J.E. Hines, K.H. Pollock, J.R. Sauer (Ecological Applications 8:1213-1225)

Requests for these two articles should be directed to the corresponding authors.  The lead author is a researcher at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.



Last year's call for data entry assistance did not go unanswered. Our thanks to Earl Williams of Colorado, Ron Maertz of Oregon, and Lee Branum of Nebraska for volunteering. Between them they entered over 41 routes. Thank you again it was a big help! Unfortunately we still have some late returns from 1996 and 1997 that can not be scanned. So if you have the time and Internet access let us know.



Safety first -- Kudos to Richard West for the best suggestion this year. Richard has taken to wearing a blaze orange safety vest, similar to those worn by road construction personnel, when conducting his seven BBS routes in northern Florida. He reports that it not only made him more visible to passing motorists, but it gives an official air as well, forestalling most offers of help and suspicious stares. Since he began using the vest Richard states that, "interruptions from others have dropped 90% -- as if wearing orange has made me invisible!"  Following Richard's lead, we suggest others try orange vests to secure solitude and safety while conducting their routes. The BBS office has purchased 25 vests to distribute to interested observers on the condition that they report back to us on how well the worked for them.

Amusing mishaps & encounters --Perhaps Richard's suggestion above will reduce these types of encounters. Carol Foil and her assistant were mistaken for insurance fraud investigators by one local resident as they conducted the Gueydan, LA route. The resident said, "Ever since my accident you people have been coming 'roun' here with your equipment. If you want to spy on me, I'll be back in that field over there!" When Carol indicated that they were only looking at birds, he scoffed and said, "Only birds around here come in the winter time!"

While conducting the Clinton, NY BBS route, Diana Teta was detained at one stop by a homeowner conducting his own bbs (i.e. backyard bird survey). The homeowner had been listing the birds he'd seen all morning and was hoping Diana could help him out with some of the trickier identifications. Not wanting to be rude, although she was in somewhat of a hurry to complete her BBS on time, she agreed to have a quick go at it. But as she looked down his list and saw: blue ones, black ones, yellow ones, brown ones, black-with-orange ones, etc., she new she was doomed to a very long tutorial session. In the end, she identified a Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel for him before continuing on her way.

Terry and Carole Toppins have faithfully and uneventfully conducted the Loco Pass, ID BBS route for the last seven years. This year, however, the route lived up to it's name -- loco! Since the route is rather far from home, Terry and Carole, usually drive over the day before and camp nearby the start. This year was no different, except. . . On the hottest day of the year 10 miles from their home the clutch burned out on their truck air conditioner. Being seasoned veterans of the BBS, they cut off the belt and continued on. Arriving at their destination, they found a beautiful spot to camp and everything was fine, until dark. It was then that they discovered that their camper was infested with tiny, black, biting midges making sleep all but impossible. They finally hung a lantern outside the camper which distracted the bugs just enough to manage a little sleep, until the thunderstorm hit in the middle of the night. The storm frightened their dog was so much that they had to bring it from the cab into the camper. However the dog had gas, which seemed to agitate the bugs and certainly didn't help Terry or Carole's attitude. Finally, the morning alarm rang but they were too exhausted to run the route. Losing the battle but not the war, they returned the next morning and ran the route in their car.

Robbye Johnson conducts two routes in Wisconsin and probably like most BBSers uses a little coffee to jump start the day. On this particular morning the coffee was too hot and was placed on the car floor to cool alongside the rubber boots Robbye keeps in case some stops are muddy. A series of turns caused the coffee to topple, spilling directly into a rubber boot, not a drop on the floor.  Although Robbye may not have had any coffee to drink that morning, a black bear wandering down the road scavenging for garbage helped liven up the morning.

Of course, coffee and bears are not are not the only stimulants out there. After doing the fire ant fandango at an early stop to free himself of the marauding pests, Richard Bello was wide awake to conduct the rest of his Berwick, LA BBS route. Richard had of course been inadvertently standing on a fire ant mound for the last three minutes. But if passersby think his presence odd on normal BBS mornings, we can only guess at what they may have thought of Richard as he stomped and slapped away on the side of highway 70 that early morning!

A curious crow spiced up Jerry and K. Smith's Dresser, WI BBS route. About one minute into stop 14 a crow landed on top of their van. Not thinking too much of the occurrence they continued counting when suddenly the crow, apparently seeking a better vantage point, landed on Jerry's head! Startled, Jerry flinched, causing the crow to land on his wife's shoulder. Now that the crow had their undivided attention, they realized it was a juvenile that was obviously people friendly and looking to be fed. After getting a few snapsots they shared some of their bread with the bird and continued on their way.

While conducting the Chesterfield, VT route, Geoff Lebaron and Robert Tourville stopped beside a placid herd of grazing dairy cows to conduct stop 25.  The cows totally ignored them for the first 90 seconds, until one cow turned with an inquisitive "Moooo?" Then the whole herd turned, stared, and began bawling as they slowly advanced on the rickety fence separating birders and bovines .  Just at three minutes one bold cow began trying to climb the fence. Not wanting to cause a stampede, Geoff and Robert quickly left for the next stop.

Meryl Sundove and Roger Harris received quite a surprise when they reached the Carson Ridge stop on their Fairfax, CA route. It is the highest, windiest, and loneliest point on the route. However, this year waiting at the stop were two large tables laden with a fancy catered breakfast. At first they thought their wish of a hot and delicious breakfast had come true, but alas the spread was for a film crew that had been shooting a truck advertisement there that morning.  Unfortunately, the caterers did not invite Meryl or Roger to partake.

Larry Hopkins and Ron Smith had a blast on the Sandy, FL BBS route this year.  They saw 6 deer, one 200 pound wild hog, and 50 alligators -- one reaching 10 feet in length. On top of this they had 645 birds at one stop!



Do you have BBS data from previous years that was never sent in? Remember, it is never too late. Whether it is 1 or 25 years old, we can still use it. While we don't wish to promote late data submission, don't throw it out just because it's a year or two old. Send it to us.

Good luck & good birding in 1999!

Keith Pardieck