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STATE: Five-year statewide bird survey to begin in March

A group of government agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations will launch the first NC Bird Atlas survey this March.

The statewide community science survey will harness the power of thousands of volunteer birdwatchers to map the distribution and abundance of birds from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks. The observations will give researchers a comprehensive picture of bird populations across North Carolina and help wildlife officials, land managers and conservation organizations make important conservation decisions about the state’s avian population. Organizers are starting volunteer recruitment and encourage birding enthusiasts of all experience levels to get involved by visiting NCBirdAtlas.org.

Bird atlases are large-scale, standardized surveys and have taken place in states across the country since the 1970s. The NC Bird Atlas, led by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and partner groups, including NC State University, North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Audubon North Carolina, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Catawba College, will collect five years of survey data starting this spring. The survey will divide the state into 937 “blocks,” each roughly 10 square miles. Volunteer observers will work with regional coordinators to fan out across each block over the course of the project and record the birds they see. All of the data will be submitted through eBird, an online, user-friendly database of crowd-sourced bird observations.

Participation in the NC Bird Atlas is like birding, except that participants will be asked to slow down. Rather than trying to observe as many bird species as possible, the breeding portion of the Atlas requires observers to watch individual birds closely and make note of behaviors. For example, an observer watching a Carolina Wren might take note of whether the bird is singing, or perhaps gathering twigs and leaves in its beak to build a nest.

“More people than ever before are learning to identify the cardinals, chickadees, and all the other bird species at their backyard feeders,” says Scott Anderson, bird conservation biologist at the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission. “The NC Bird Atlas is a great opportunity for people to use these new-found skills and give a little back. You’ll deepen your knowledge of birds, have fun outside with new friends and contribute to a widespread and critical research project that ultimately helps us better understand and protect birds.”

The project comes at an important time for bird conservation. A recent study published in the journal “Science” documented the loss of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. The data collected during the NC Atlas study will help prioritize conservation to benefit the most imperiled North Carolina birds.

“We are excited to see this project get off the ground,” Anderson noted. “It’s been years in the making and is very important to the future of bird conservation in our state. Our agency is fortunate to have such amazing partners to help launch this program. Wildlife in North Carolina is for everyone, and we encourage participation by a diversity of North Carolinians to benefit our diversity of birds, hence our motto, ‘People Count. Birds Count’.”