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


Last year was a busy one for the BBS office as we converted to a relational database system and implemented the use of scannable data sheets.  Though successful, these transitions were not as seamless as we had hoped for and many formerly routine BBS data handling procedures became overly cumbersome, if not impossible,  tasks to accomplish during the transition.  Thankfully most of that is behind us now and we look forward to a smoother year in 1998, although there will undoubtedly still be a few bumps in the road ahead.

One bright spot has been the patience and cooperation you, the participants, have shown during these transitions especially in regard to the new forms.  Generally, the scannable forms were well received by most observers as the following breakdown of comments indicates:
10% -- Great forms!, 70% -- Like forms, but need improvement., 5% -- Dislike forms, no good will come of them., 5% -- Detest forms, wonít use., 10% -- No Comment.

However, numerous participants are still wondering, with good reason, why the BBS had to undergo these drastic changes.  No, itís not due to some underlying sadistic tendencies of the BBS office.  But thatís a good guess!  Itís actually the result of internal reorganization and the subsequent loss of data entry personnel.  Because of this, the BBS was compelled to implement a data management system that would allow a one or two person office to enter data as efficiently as six key-punchers.  The best option was to scan the data, as well as, implement an Internet data entry system.  Secondarily, the BBS office gets numerous requests for stop data each year which we are legally bound to provide access to under the Freedom of Information Act.  Since the individual stop data are not computerized prior to 1997, hundreds of hours per year are often spent photocopying data sheets to meet these requests.  And the growing popularity of Geographic Information Systems and new analytical techniques has only fueled the demand for BBS stop data.  Thus, in the long run the scannable data sheets and Internet data entry system should allow the BBS office to maintain its functionality, as well as, focus on the more important tasks of expanding BBS route coverage, editing the data base, and providing pertinent analyses and interpretation of the data.  Although in many ways outside forces have pushed the BBS in its current direction, we have tried not to lose sight of our most valuable resource Ė the participants Ė when developing this data management system.  In reading this memo, you will see that the BBS has taken many of your suggestions regarding the form to heart, and hope you find the 1998 form much improved.  In addition, the electronic data entry system is now on line and has the potential to significantly reduce the burden of recording and reporting data.

Many useful suggestions for improving the forms were sent in by BBS participants. We have incorporated them into the 1998 form whenever possible.  For example, the species list is now more comprehensive and the same on each page -- this was by far the most popular suggestion for improvement of the form and a feature that we intended to include last year but ran out of time.  Other modifications include: page numbers, pre-printed route names on each page, and extra space at the top to track your progress using mileage or time.

Besides the improvements mentioned above, there have been a few other additions to the 1998 form.  The cover sheet now includes a more comprehensive questionnaire section.  Please answer all the questions listed there before returning your completed data forms.  The answers you provide will allow us to better manage the data and track your future participation.  We will also be looking at excessive noise along BBS routes in 1998.  Many of you indicated that excessive noise from sources other than passing traffic often played a role in reducing your ability to hear birds at a stop.  Now you can indicate constant excessive noise at a stop by filling in the corresponding bubble at the bottom of the field sheet (see section 9, BBS Instructions).

Finally, a few ambiguous items in last yearís instructions are clarified below:
1) Write-in species may be written in lower-case letters and abbreviated as long as the abbreviation cannot be confused with another bird name.
2) Only address corrections need to be written in capital letters.
3) No need to write AOU numbers for write-in species.  BBS office will provide them.
4) If surveying multiple routes, address corrections need only be provided on one Cover Sheet.
5) The Cover Sheet should always be completed, including the route summary section, and returned with the field sheets.

Which forms to use in 1998 ? -- This year there are several choices for use of data collection forms and data entry procedures.  Data can be submitted electronically via the Internet or manually via the Postal Service.
Electronic data entry: To utilize the electronic data entry program you must have a computer with Internet access and a web browser program that is compatible with the data entry program, preferably Netscape 4.0, but other web browsers may work as well (see section on Internet Data Entry).  If you meet these requirements, you can use any type of field sheets and counting method to record your data since you will be entering the data directly into the BBS data base via the data entry program (see section 18, BBS Instructions).
Manual data entry: If mailing your data to the BBS office for processing, you can record your data using the Scan Forms provided, the old single-sided BBS field sheets provided, any photocopy of the above or any form of your own design.  However, if you use the old single-sided BBS field sheets, a photocopy of the Scan Form or your own forms the data must be transcribed to the original Scan Form using Arabic numbers (see sections 14, 15 and 16, BBS Instructions).

Electronic data entry is finally here!  If you have Internet access, we encourage you to take advantage of the new electronic data entry system available on the BBS Operations home page at:


The benefits of Internet data submission include the ability to record the data in the field using any type of data sheet -- including your own, the ability to use any type of counting system in the field, and quicker feedback on your results.  If you use electronic data submission, please remember that you still need to return the original field sheets and completed Cover Sheet to the BBS office.  Also, any route data that is not electronically submitted, must be submitted on the Scan Form in Arabic numbers to be processed at the BBS office.

The data entry program does not work equally well on all web browser programs.  It works best on Netscape 4.0, and also works with Microsoft Explorer 4.0.  Other web browsers may or may not work.  To save yourself some headaches and unnecessary work, IT IS IMPORTANT TO DETERMINE WHETHER YOUR WEB BROWSER IS COMPATIBLE WITH OUR DATA ENTRY PROGRAM BEFORE COLLECTING THE DATA.  To test their compatibility, go to the web site above and click on the link entitled "Compatibility Test."  Once in the data entry test program, enter some dummy BBS data and click save.  If the data entry program loads, allows data entry, and saves without giving you an error message then you should be able to submit your route data via the Internet.  If the program doesnít work with your browser, you will need to submit your data on the Scan Forms or download Netscape 4.0.  A link to the freeware site where you can download Netscape 4.0 is posted on the BBS Operations home page.  See section 18 of the BBS Instructions for more complete electronic data entry instructions.

At the same Internet site as the electronic data entry program is the BBS Operations home page.  Although the site is still under development, we have begun posting general survey-related information that may be of interest to BBS participants.  For example, the state coordinatorís addresses, the BBS memos, the data entry program, and the BBS Instructions are all currently available.  Undoubtedly we will be adding much more information in the future, so be sure and visit the site from time to time to see whatís new.

The American Ornithologistís Union Check-list Committee has revised the AOU Check-list of North American birds to reflect the findings of recent phylogenetic research on various avian taxa.  As a result, the BBS species list has also been revised to reflect these taxonomic changes.  For example, Turkey Vultures are now considered more closely related to storks than to raptors and have been moved accordingly.  So take some extra time to familiarize yourself with the species list before conducting the survey.

Enclosed in your 1997 BBS packet is an 8.5" x 14" summary sheet for every route that you are assigned.  This is the last year
the BBS office will be providing these forms.  If you like using them to summarize your route results, please keep them with our
compliments.  However, you will need to make photocopies of the blank form for use in future years since our office will no
longer be providing them.  Under no circumstances are you required to fill out the 8.5" x 14" summary forms but if you do use
them, please do not send the completed form to the BBS office.  They are for your records only.

The declining trend of BBS route coverage which began in 1996 continued in 1997 with 2865 completed surveys, a 1.6% decline from last yearís total.  Similarly, U.S. coverage fell from 2510 to 2453 completed routes, a 2.3% decline.  Undoubtedly, the dissatisfaction, and perhaps shock, some observers experienced with the new forms contributed to the declines.  Although route coverage continued to decline in 1997, the magnitude of the drop is much lower than that experienced in 1996 and offers hope of a complete trend reversal next year.  Moreover, Canada has already pushed the BBS in the right direction with the completion of 412 routes, a 2.2% increase over last yearís coverage.  The 1996-1997 state and provincial coverage totals are listed below:

                                        1996-1997 Coverage Summary


Also summarized in the above table are the average number of cars observed on a route in each state.  Unfortunately, the data set is incomplete since numerous observers did not record vehicles when conducting their route.  But there is enough information to make some general observations.  The four states with the most heavily traveled BBS routes are Florida (4.3 cars/stop), New Jersey (4.1 cars/stop), Louisiana (2.5 cars/stop), and California (2 cars/stop).  Not surprisingly, the four most heavily trafficked routes are in three of these states.  California route 105 had 5806 cars, Louisiana route 906 had 2089 cars, and Florida routes 002 and 077 had 2068 cars and 2652 cars, respectively.  Fortunately, these extraordinarily high totals are relatively uncommon on BBS routes and are often the result of having to sample several stops on a highway under rush hour conditions.
On another front, the call for establishing additional BBS routes did not go unanswered.  We are over one-third of the way to reaching the goal of establishing an additional 300 routes in the U.S. before the year 2000 thanks to the efforts of the following State BBS Coordinators and their cooperators:  Gary Lester in Louisiana, Darryl Tessen in Wisconsin, Hugh Kingery in Colorado, Dennis Forsythe in South Carolina, and Kevin Hunting, Adam Rich, and John Keane in California.  They have added have added a total of 109 routes between their respective states and look forward to increased coverage in 1998.  Once again, we encourage other state coordinators, especially in the west and mid-west to consider adding new routes.  But submit your request early since the BBS office has already been contacted by three additional state coordinators requesting more routes and we donít want to run out of time before the 1999 BBS season.

Since our last memo, several changes have occurred among the state coordinators.  With the death of Peter Petersen, Lisa Hemesath (Wildlife Research Station, 1436 255th Street, Boone, IA 50036;  515/432-2823) has agreed to take on the responsibilities of state coordinator for Iowa.  Pete Petersen had been actively involved in the BBS, as state coordinator and participant, since it began in Iowa in 1967 and contributed countless hours to its success.  His loss will be sorely felt in the birding community throughout the mid-west, and especially in Iowa.

Other updates include address changes for Ron Martin, the North Dakota BBS Coordinator (16900 125th Street SE, Sawyer, ND 58781;  701/852-0535), Hugh Kingery, the Colorado BBS Coordinator (P.O. Box 584, Franktown, CO 80116-0584),  and Robert Janssen, the Minnesota BBS Coordinator (162 Lakeview Road East, Chanhassen, MN 55317).  There is also a name change and email update for Judy Camuso, the Maine BBS Coordinator (Judy Walker;  Jwalker@MaineAudubon.org), and an email update for Sandy Williams, the New Mexico BBS Coordinator (S_williams@gmfsh.state.nm.us).

The importance of maintaining a current list stop descriptions for your BBS route cannot be overemphasized, since sampling consistency is paramount for the proper analysis of BBS data.  And part and parcel to consistent sampling is conducting the 3-min point counts from the same stop locations each year.  Depicting stop locations on the route map is helpful, but for most areas of the country the best tool for locating stops each year are stop descriptions.  If you havenít written stop descriptions or havenít sent the BBS office a copy, please do so this year so future participants can find the stops.  If you have stop descriptions for your route already, remember to update them every 4-5 years, or whenever major landmarks change along the route, and send us a copy.

The inaugural year of the PRBBS was met with considerable enthusiasm.  Fifteen participants  surveyed 20 out of 29 routes and more observers have signed on for 1998.  Unlike the mainland BBS, the PRBBS routes are five miles long and observers record data for an additional two minutes at each stop.  This methodology is still experimental and may change based on the results of a route replication study being conducted in Puerto Rico this year.

A total of 4893 individuals was detected representing 68 bird species, or approximately 50% of the breeding bird species found in Puerto Rico.  Among these were 56 native species (including 11 endemics and 2 endangered subspecies), 10 introduced species, and 2 breeding migrant species.  Mean species richness and mean total individuals were highest for routes in the dry life zone and both measures demonstrated an inverse relationship with the moisture gradient;  mean species richness (and mean total individuals) for routes in the dry, moist, and wet life zones were 30.6 (306 ind/rte), 28.8 (246 ind/rte), and 21.5 (225 ind/rte), respectively.

The twenty most abundant species detected were native permanent residents with one notable exception, the Black-whiskered Vireo, a breeding migrant that winters in South America, which was the third most abundant species.  The Bananaquit topped the list with 825 individuals while the Gray Kingbird was second with 361 individuals.  The Orange-cheeked Waxbill was the most common introduced species and the twenty-first most abundant species.  The five most abundant species in the dry life zone were, in descending order, the Greater Antillean Grackle, Cattle Egret, Bananaquit, Adelaideís Warbler, and the Gray Kingbird.  The five most abundant species in the moist and wet life zones were the Bananaquit, Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, Scaly-naped Pigeon, and Puerto Rican Bullfinch.

Copies of the article listed below can be obtained through the BBS office.
¨ Population trends of Black Terns from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, 1966-1996
 by Bruce G. Peterjohn and John R. Sauer (Colonial Waterbirds 20: 566-573).

The BBS office is looking for some motivated individuals to assist with data entry.  Due to the loss of our data entry support, the BBS office has a backlog of data Ė late returns from 1996 and 1997 data submitted on non-scannable forms -- that needs to be computerized.  If you have Internet access, the data can be entered from your own home.  Please contact the BBS office if you are interested.

Itís not uncommon for members of the general public to take an interest in the seemingly obscure roadside activities of BBSíers.  Usually they approach out of polite curiosity, genuine concern over the performance of our vehicles or concern over our ability to find our way.  And upon learning that we are counting birds they usually politely smile, roll their eyes and continue on their way.  June Ficker and Joan Junker had just such an encounter on their 003 Maine route.  While completing stop 45, a smiling round-faced man, who professed he was collecting garbage from the highway, stopped to see if they needed a lift.  Although chagrined at being mistaken for garbage, the ladies expressed their thanks and sent him on his way.  Problems have become more severe in recent years.

For example, the following story about Larry Gardellaís BBS adventure is excerpted from Charles Kennedyís 1997 column "Why the Laughing Gull laughs" in the Alabama Ornithological Society newsletter.  Larry runs the Cottonton, AL route.  "Being the dedicated observer that he is, Larry likes to make sure he doesnít miss any birds.  He realized that he had not seen or heard a robin so at the next stop, which was in front of a house with a well manicured lawn, he took a very good look."
 "There was a robin on the lawn."  There was also an armed militiaman on the lawn.  "Militiamen do not look favorably on strangers snooping about with binoculars" and detained Larry.  "With weapon at ready he placed a call to his commander for orders.  In about ten minutes they decided to let Larry go."  Needless to say, Larry wonít be stopping in front of that house again.

Janet Price had a similar confrontation while running the Centerville, MO route. After completing a stop, Janet noticed a man down the road watching her suspiciously.  He then followed her to the next stop and demanded to know her business since he didnít want anyone from the "damned conservation" snooping around his land.  Some quick thinking and fast-talking convinced him that she meant no harm and was only bird watching.

The last story in this vein comes from Harriet Marble of Montana.  Harriet runs the Sunburst route which parallels the Canadian border for several miles.  She has always had a feeling that she was being watched when conducting this section of the route, but this year Harriet must have looked extra suspicious.  While counting some of Albertaís birds, a Border Patrol helicopter flew in and hovered above her.  Fortunately, while Harriet contemplated the unhappy prospect of being detained by the Border Patrol, they must have decided she looked harmless enough and continued on their way.

As usual, wildlife in all its forms delayed and entertained numerous participants while conducting their BBS routes.  We can only imagine her surprise when Frances Pope became the unwitting participant in a buffalo round-up at stop 29 on the Vindex, MD route.  Luckily she had just completed the stop and was back in her car when the buffalo rounded the corner with its owners in hot pursuit.

While conducting the Gove, KS route the unthinkable happened to Scott Seltman.  Having just remarked on the abundance of Western Meadowlarks on the route, a bundle of feathers shot from the side of the road and disappeared from view as it collided with the grill of his Bronco between stops 6 and 7.  At stop 7 fearing the worst, Scott went to dislodge the body and found a stunned meadowlark wedged between the grill and radiator.  Incredibly, the bird soon recovered and flew to an adjacent pasture.  Scott didnít get to count this meadowlark though, it was a juvenile;  perhaps if the birdís luck holds, he can count it next year.

Nada Wareham and Mary Bush got to see a portion of the "cycle of life" while running the Pidcoke, TX route.  They had just commented on the absence of bluebirds on the route, when at the next stop with seconds to spare Nada spied a pair of Eastern Bluebirds atop a leafless mesquite tree.  Then while Nada and Mary were taking a moment to appreciate the birdsí plumage, a Sharp-shinned Hawk dropped from the sky and knocked the male bluebird to the brush below.  For a second escape looked possible but the hawk quickly recovered, grasped the bluebird in its talons and flew away.  Apparently not ones to let their emotions overwhelm them, a debate quickly ensued on whether to count one or two bluebirds.  They correctly decided to count two since the bird was not killed until after the 3-min period.

Itís not the animals that directly affected Robert Quinnís ability to finish his Clarksville, NH route but what they attract Ė people.  Moose watchers regularly clog the roads on this route.  And they often slow down to rubber-neck as they approach his parked car, thinking he is also a moose watcher that has detected a moose.  Of course there is a positive side.  Robert has been known to see 17 moose in one day.

Bob and Mary Schutsky were lucky enough to get a close-up view of an American Kestrel while conducting the Mount Joy, PA route.  After completing a stop, a newly fledged American Kestrel fluttered from the side of the road and landed on their right windshield wiper where it stared at Mary who was sitting in the car.  It then hopped to the left wiper and repeated the process with Bob before fluttering across the road and landing on a mown lawn.  Before leaving the stop, they herded the kestrel into a flower garden that offered the fledgling some cover.

Other interesting wildlife sightings include those of Steve Gniadek and Vita Wright who saw a total of three grizzly bears on their two Montana routes.  On the Inside Road route, two grizzlies were so close to the stop that they could hear them grunting.  After delaying for 15 minutes, Steve and Vita were able to complete the stop, but they prudently conducted the count with their doors open and one foot inside the truck.

Buddy Johnson indicated that mosquitoes were a problem on the Ruby, AK route.  But upon seeing his field sheets this seemed an understatement to us.  Judging by the number of squashed mosquitoes on his forms we feel he is lucky to have completed the route alive.  Of course this brings up another interesting point regarding the scannable forms.  For the most part, mosquito carcasses are not compatible with the BBS scanner.  Although on occasion a flattened leg was interpreted as a "1" by the optical character recognition program.

The last story comes from Peg Frankel who conducts the Navarro, CA route.  Peg received natureís call, as many of us do, while conducting the survey.  She answered the call and then discovered at the next stop that her binoculars were missing.  Unfortunately, Peg was never able to recover her binoculars.  So remember, if you canít take a message, leave your binoculars in the car.

Thanks again for participating in the Breeding Bird Survey!
Keith Pardieck
e-mail: Keith_Pardieck@usgs.gov
tel: 301-497-5843