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Patuxent Wildlife Research Center




Courter, Jason R., Johnson, R., Bridges, W., and Hubbard, K. Assessing migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) at broad spatial and temporal scales. The Auk. January 2013.

Courter, J., Johnson, R., Stuyck, C., Lang, B., Kaiser, E. 2012. Weekend bias in Citizen Science data reporting: implications for phenology studies. International Journal of Biometeorology. October 2012.

Zelt, J., J. Courter, A. Arab, R. Johnson, and S. Droege, 2012. Reviving a Legacy Citizen Science Project to Illuminate Shifts in Bird Phenology. International Journal of Zoology. Volume 2012, Article ID 710710.

Droege, Sam. 2003. Spring Arrivals of Maryland and Washington, D.C. Birds. Maryland Birdlife, Volume 59, No. 1-2.

Current Research Projects:

Steven Hilburger, USGS Biologist
Biologist with USGS completed his Master's thesis at George Mason University. "Spring Migration Phenology Of Four North American Insectivorous Bird Species In Relation To Climatic Variables" describes the relationships between the timing of spring migration of four bird species and eight environmental variables which could influence migration.

John Sauer, USGS Research Wildlife Biologist
Wildlife Biologist at PWRC, and Agathe Duponteil, former BPP intern, completed some statistical analysis of Barn Swallows using data from the migration cards.

  • The Bird Phenology Program looked at Barn Swallow data to explore its quality and characteristics. The BPP then analyzed more specific information with this data set such as the cycle of arrival dates over time, the association of spring temperatures and the NAOI and SOI indexes. All data on Barn Swallows used for analysis were documented from 1895 to 1968.

Jason R. Courter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Malone University
PhD Graduate Student, Clemson University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
Dr. Ron J. Johnson, Professor, Wildlife Ecology- Biosustainability, Clemson University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Using a Novel Temperature Approach to Monitor Climate Change and Optimize Bird Conservation

  • Bird populations continue to face multiple stressors that affect their habitats and survival needs. One concern is about the potential long-term impacts of global climate change. Growing evidence suggests that spring events are occurring earlier across the United States than they did 50 years ago and that some birds are migrating earlier whereas others are not. Traditional calendar dates are becoming less accurate predictors of their arrival and there is concern about whether their food resources will respond in a similar way and be there when birds arrive. We propose a novel method to predict bird arrival, independent of calendar-date, using accumulated heat units. We believe this technique could be used by land managers to efficiently predict the arrival of bird species that provide important economic, ecological, and aesthetic services. We are in the process of correlating arrival records (1880-1970) from the North American Bird Phenology Program at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to historical temperature data to access and use these unique and important historical data is an enormous boost to this research and underscores the vision of earlier biologists who captured and retained these records. Our results will provide a baseline of historical arrival times based on bird biology and spring phenology and a current patter of 'expected' bird arrival dates based on current spring conditions. Land managers could use these results to predict current arrival dates in relation to spring leaf-out or similar observable patterns and to assess the possible effects of climate change in relation to management needs. Observed deviations from predicted arrival dates may indicate asynchrony across trophic levels- birds and their food resources- and help identify birds that may face the greatest risk from climate change events and how we might respond.
  • Update 12/20/2010 By comparing historical data from arrival cards with newer arrival data, Jason and his colleagues found that Ruby-throated hummingbirds are arriving more than two weeks earlier than they did a century ago across Eastern North America. Surprisingly arrival dates of other species like Chimney Swifts and Baltimore Orioles have shown almost no change during this time period. They are exploring possible explanations for these trends including climate change in wintering and breeding grounds and an increase in popularity of backyard bird feeding.
  • Update 9/1/2011 PowerPoint presentation was given by Jason Courter at the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, August 2011. Assessing effects of climate change on bird phenology at broad temporal and spatial scales

Ali Arab, Assistant Professor, Georgetown University, Department of Mathematics.

  • Ali Arab's research goal is to study spatial and temporal trends in the migration patterns of birds based on the historical records at NABPP. In particular, he is interested in correlating these spatial and temporal trends with climate indices and other environmental variables (such as severe climate events) to provide a more detailed analyses of the potential impacts of climate change on bird migration patterns over the past century for which data is available. Also, in a separate but related analysis, he intends to analyze local measures of risk for bird migration processes throughout the United States. These statistical measures of risk can be used by policy makers in adopting or modifying management efforts to identify, control and/or reduce major sources of environmental impact on bird migration processes in a local level (such as city, county, state, or regional levels).

Phil Davis, Secretary, Maryland/District of Columbia Records Committee

  • The Maryland/District of Columbia Records Committee (MD/DCRC) is a standing committee of the Maryland Ornithological Society that is chartered to review regional reports of rare and unusual birds and maintain the Official Lists of Birds for MD and for DC. Our committee is now making plans to publish a comprehensive book to detail the rare birds records that we have accepted within MD and DC.
  • The baseline for our MD/DCRC Official Lists for MD and for DC is The Birds of Maryland and the District of Columbia by Robert E. Stewart and Chandler S. Robbins, 1958. However, in preparing for this publication, we are conducting a comprehensive canvass for any historical rare bird records that were not published by Stewart and Robbins (which covered only through 1955) or for any other records that were not submitted to or known by our committee (which was established in 1982). Sources of historical bird records include the specimens and the database of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the database and the banding schedules of PWRC’s Bird Banding Laboratory, and thorough reviews of local and national historical ornithological journals.
  • The PWRC BPP card files provide a rich source of historical bird records. While many of the “reviewable” records (taxa that meet the committee’s review criteria) in the card files were known to Stewart and Robbins and to the MD/DCRC, previously unpublished reports have been discovered in the files and additional details of previous record have been located which fill-in data fields in our MD/DCRC database. The BPP card files also summarize published citations of historical records and that reference information has also been captured and added to our committee’s database.
  • Our committee is also preparing a related chronology of when new species were added to the various published regional bird checklists dating from the late 1700s until the establishment of the first MD and DC Official Lists by MD/DCRC in the 1980s. The BPP files have been invaluable in providing dates and references of when species were first reported or when specimens were first collected within MD and DC.

Internships: The purpose for our internships is to help gain work experience while at the same time receiving guidance in a scientific study. Students are selected from the Eleanor Roosevelt High School where a study is required by all students graduating with the Science and Technology Department.

Kamli Sirjue
2012 Science and Technology student, who attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland. She completed an internship with the BPP, looking at the relationship between arrival dates and elevation with several vireo species.

Michaeline Fraser
2011 Science and Technology student, who attended Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Maryland. She completed an internship with the BPP, looking at the relationship between arrival dates and elevation with several warbler species.

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