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Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas

This is the time of year when almost every bird is nesting. Their frenzied activity ensures, in the tight window, when weather permits, enough offspring can be produced to ensure a species’ survival. But it is never an easy task. Fire, rain, wind, predators, agricultural and industrial activities, cars, and even idle human disturbance all work to thwart this important annual activity. But they must breed and so they will! Studying this phenomenon is an important activity, because, scientists can determine the health of the environment, both here and on their wintering grounds, by studying nesting success and failure. In 2021, the 3rd Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas will commence and run until 2025. This is an incredibly intensive breeding bird survey, involving thousands of volunteers across Ontario and beyond, who will try to find every breeding bird in all of Ontario during this 5-year study. The southern parts of the Ontario will be divided into 10 km x 10 km squares, and in the far north 100 km x 100 km squares. This is to ensure that the success, or failure of species can be mapped and evaluated locally, and impacts assessed in a microcosm, rather than more broadly across all of Ontario in a generalized manner. Many organizations such as Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service (Ontario Region), Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Nature and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry will collaborate to bring this project to fruition. Once it is complete, a report will be prepared to celebrate its success. This is the third such atlas, the first was during 1980-1985, and the second during 2001-2005. With this type of history, one can realistically compare how our birds are doing over a long period of time. Is development helping or hindering them? Which species are doing better? Worse? Unchanged? What are there trouble zones we could/should be protecting? So much can be learned from this citizen’s science project. One of the risks of this intensive study is, some birds may inadvertently be negatively impacted as zealous birders try to ‘confirm’ breeding. So please remember, the well-being of the bird is far more important than trying to find a nest! The Atlas has mechanisms built-in which are non-intrusive when it comes to trying to confirm breeding. Breeding success will be defined in one of three categories: possible, probable or confirmed. Obviously ‘confirmed’ is preferable, as it shows a species is definitely breeding in an area, but there is merit in the other categories as well, particularly for rare and hard to find species. The Atlas defines visual cues to determine the status of breeding in each of the categories noted above. For example, a singing male in suitable breeding habitat, might be breeding, so it is a ‘possible’ breeder. If it sings in the same area for 7 plus days or has an obvious mate it is interacting with, it ‘probably’ is breeding in a specific location. But if an old nest is found, or recently fledged dependant babies are observed, a distraction display (e.g. Killdeer broken wing act), or an adult is seen carrying food to an unseen nest, then breeding is ‘confirmed’ even if the nest isn’t found. However, if you do find a nest, it is always better to resist the temptation to look into the nest, separate the vegetation for a better view, stand too close, be noisy or do anything else that might disturb the breeding birds. Please stand back, watch, listen and observe the behaviour, usually it will reveal what’s happening. I will be co-leading the Atlas project in Durham Region with Glenn Coady of Whitby, so if you’d like more information, or more importantly want to be a part of the birding team doing the study in Durham Region, please let me know, at (! And NO, you do not have to be an expert birdwatcher, you just have to be aware and ready to learn to assist with this important project. Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line, at and on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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