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The Alberta Bird Atlas Project

A General Review of Bird Atlas Projects

The goal of a breeding bird atlas project is to survey and record the current relative abundance and geographical distribution of each breeding bird species. In general the wide movements of many bird species make the location of their relatively sedentary breeding stations important. Therefore, bird atlases often concentrate on breeding bird behavior.

Atlas projects can range in size but typically cover large areas including countries, states, or provinces. The Atlas area is typically divided into uniform "blocks and square." Squares are thoroughly surveyed, and observers take note of the breeding behavior of all birds.

Data collected is compiled and the breeding ranges of all species are mapped. Completing the first Atlas for an area provides biologists and conservationists with baseline data on the distribution and relative abundance of birds. When an atlas is repeated in later years, other significant aspects of bird populations can be evaluated.

By continually updating a bird atlas we can document changes in bird species' ranges and track any new breeding species that appear. Through this process we are able to create some of the most thorough and important data sets for conservationists.

Over the last twenty-five years, bird atlas projects have become a popular international activity, with birdwatchers taking part in Bird Atlas Projects around the world.

Because data is collected in a coordinated fashion, bird atlas projects provide a scientifically valid snapshot of bird distribution and abundance, which can be compared with historic or future data to monitor changes in bird populations.

These changes can then be assessed in relation to environmental factors and human activities, such as changes in land use practices. Such evaluations provide baseline information for conducting environmental assessments and research, and for developing conservation and management plans for birds and their habitats.

Within atlas projects volunteer birders are referred to as atlassers. Atlassers are essential for bird atlas projects to be successful. Atlassers are the people in the local community who appreciate the wild birds, can identify them, enjoy watching them, and are concerned for their well being and the conservation of their habitats.

To even begin such a project we are dependent on the efforts of these atlassers, the volunteer birders, bird enthusiasts and ornithologists. Bird club members, students in university wildlife courses, those who have participated in Breeding Bird Surveys or Christmas Bird Counts, are all people who have the skills to provide much of the help for a bird atlas project that is taking place in their local area.

The success of all bird atlas projects depend on the efforts of these large groups of volunteer birders, bird enthusiasts and ornithologists. Every Bird Atlas Project requires the full support of local naturalist groups and individual birders.

Why Start a Bird Atlas?

There are many reasons for starting a breeding bird atlas project. Birds are a very good indicator species for the health of the environment. A bird atlas project provides the basis for such monitoring.

Birds also tend to be very sensitive to disturbance, as their ability of flight makes it easy for them to respond to immediate changes in their natural environment compared with other land locked animals.

Information from an Atlas project also helps identify important bird areas. Thus identifying unique habitats that need to be protected or are under the threat of destruction.

The distribution and abundance of bird species are constantly changing. Therefore, continual monitoring is required to maintain accurate, current information on their status.

Such data is vital for the conservation, management, and understanding of the changes that are taking place within bird communities. Atlas projects have become an important part of the spectrum of methods and programs that are currently used to monitor bird species.

Bird atlas projects provide an opportunity for birdwatchers to have fun, make friends, and learn more about nature in their local area. At the same time they are contributing to the knowledge of natural history and ornithological research in the area that the atlas covers.

Local birders are often motivated by local conservation issues such as a decline in bird numbers in their favorite birding areas. In this case an atlas project becomes a valuable tool for documenting real changes in breeding numbers and ranges.

The Alberta Bird Atlas Project (1987-1992)


Alberta completed its first bird atlas during the years of 1987 to 1992. During the first atlas we had over 900 "atlassers" involved in the project. These "atlassers" accumulated over 40,000 hours of completed bird surveys. In total there was 122,400 bird records collected. At the end of this project (1992) The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta was published.

The Alberta Bird Atlas Project-Update (2000-2005)

It has been almost a decade since the initial Alberta Bird Atlas surveys were completed. The Alberta Bird Atlas is now working on an update of the initial atlas.

A Bird Atlas is continuously challendged as years pass to document the current status of bird distribution and abundance. For this reason a Bird Atlas is a ongoing process. The update of the Alberta Bird Atlas has now completed its second year of field surveys.

Four Main Goals of the Alberta Bird Atlas Project

  1. To involve the community in a conservation project while increasing public awareness and understanding of Alberta’s natural history;
  2. To gain current data on the distribution and relative abundance of Alberta’s breeding bird species;
  3. To conduct data analysis to determine recent changes and patterns in the distribution and abundance of breeding birds species in Alberta;
  4. To provide baseline data for research, wildlife management plans, and environmental impact assessments.

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