Audubon Society’s 3-year bird atlas project to begin
Updated 12:35 pm, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
HARTFORD — A three-year study to determine where birds live and don’t live, as well as their favorite habitats, will soon be the focus of the those interested in birds in Connecticut.
It’s called The Atlas Project, the new assessment of feathered animals will be the work of the University of Connecticut and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. An army of volunteer birdwatchers will be conscripted to help with the effort. The project was announced by the Connecticut Audubon Society, which made it the focus of its 2017 State of the Birds annual report.
The last bird atlas dates to 1994, and CAS officials are calling this latest effort “the biggest and most important bird research project ever in Connecticut.” It was the subject of 12th annual CAS “State of the Birds” report, which was released last week in Hartford.
“The new atlas will help us make better conservation decisions and justifications for protection of key parcels,” said Patrick Comins, Connecticut Audubon’s executive director.
“This year we included only one major recommendation in the report: If Connecticut's birds are important to you, learn as much as you can about the project and then volunteer to participate,” said Milan Bull, Connecticut Audubon’s senior director of science and conservation. “The last atlas was dated 1994 but it used data from 1986, so we’re in desperate need of a new atlas — the data that we’re working with is 30 years old.”
Bull said that a lot has happened to birds in the state since the mid-1980s.
“Back then, for example, ravens only had a couple of breeding populations in the Northwest Corner, but now they’re widespread across the state,” he said. “But by the same token, your shrub-scrub birds are in the decline, and because of climate change, new species are moving in and others are moving out.”
CAS said the Atlas Project will cost about $700,000 to complete, although because of grants and volunteer time, “it’s really a $2.5 million study,” Bull said. The cost will be shared by DEEP, UConn, CAS and others.
“This is the most important conservation bird research project that the state has ever undertaken,” Bull said. “Not only will it tell where the breeding birds are, but also the migratory and wintering numbers and species as well. And it will give us the places that are most important to conservation.”
About 600 volunteers will be involved in the effort. Training lessons are being scheduled for those interested in helping.
The first of these sessions is scheduled for Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m., at the Great Hollow Nature Preserve & Ecological Research Center in New Fairfield, and Jan. 8, at 7 p.m., at Connecticut Audubon’s Center in Pomfret. Additional sessions are being arranged.
The State of the Birds 2017 report urges Connecticut’s birders and conservationists to volunteer and support the project. Large landowners, including land preservation organizations, can participate by allowing volunteers onto their land to conduct fieldwork, CAS said.
“This atlas is something I’ve been talking about for more than a decade, and most of all I’m looking forward to contributing to the results,” said Comins. “The new atlas will help us make better conservation decisions and justifications for protection of key parcels. We hope the atlas will become a basic decision-making tool for municipal planners, state regulators, conservationists, and others.”
Comins said he’s had to guess as to which species of conservation concern might benefit from a particular project to conserve land.
“The atlas will take it to the next level,” he said. “When this project is done, we will finally know exactly which places are most important to which species and be able to make much better conservation decisions.”
Editor’s note: The Connecticut Audubon Society (Connecticut Audubon) and the Connecticut Chapter of the National Audubon Society (known as Audubon Connecticut) are separate, unaffiliated organizations.