Second state bird atlas finishing owl research this year
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 04:02
Students, Delaware residents and scientists are coming together to research native birds for the second Delaware Bird Breeding Atlas, despite some setback with hard-to-find raptors.
“They are living in people’s backyards,” Jean Woods, curator of birds from the Delaware Museum of Natural History says about the raptors native to Delaware.
There are about 390 bird species native to Delaware living anywhere from scenic forestlands to local grocery parking lots, Woods says. The Delaware Bird Breeding Atlas is a statewide citizen-driven project aimed to map out the distribution and breeding of birds around the state and this year marks the end of the five-year long project, which started on 2007.
The state government can use the information to see how human behavior and development are affecting wildlife, says Anthony Gonzon project coordinator for the Delaware Breeding Bird Atlas.
“The project was extended an extra year this time to collect more data from hard to find species,” says Anthony Gonzon the.
These “hard-to-find” species, as Gonzon says, are not necessarily mean these of special concern or under extinction—it just means that they are difficult to spot, like owls which tend to come out at night.
These nocturnal raptors are rarely active during the day and include the Barn, Great Horned, Eastern Screech, and the Barred owls, all of which breed yearly in the state of Delaware, Woods says.
Senior wildlife conservation major Jessica Nimmerichter says that most people do their bird watching during the day, so finding owls is even more difficult for researchers. She has been birding around White Clay Creek but has never seen any owls, she says.
This could be due to the fact that Woods says owls do not build nests, and their feathers camouflage them with the bark of the trees. They are also affected by noise pollution and tend to reside deep in the forest where it is quieter, so it takes time and a lot of dedication to spot one of these raptors, Woods says. But it’s not impossible.
“I got a call from a woman in Newark a few weeks ago who saw an owl flying from her backyard into the street,” she says.
The struggle for collecting information for the owls has not stopped volunteers all over Delaware who have data for the Atlas from searching in different quadrants for signs of birds breeding, she says.
The second Delaware Breeding Bird Atlas is a continuation from the first Delaware breeding atlas conducted by Rick West 20 years ago, which began in 1983 and finished in 1987. The main focus of the project was to determine where the birds breed in Delaware and gather as much information as possible about the bird species living in Delaware, Gonzon says.
The current project has 200 volunteers participating in the gathering of data since 2007 and is in the last year of research, he says.
“It’s impossible for the state to cover all the land,” Gonzon says. “There is not enough resources available, so we must rely on volunteers and this makes it a wonderful project because anyone can contribute.”
The first Delaware Breeding Bird Atlas was successfully completed and the data gathered led to the publication of a book called “Birds of Delaware” by Gene Hess, Woods says.
Nimmerichter says these type of projects should be advertised more to students so they can help, she says and if this were the case, students could find more data and further the goals of the atlas.
“More students would care more if they were more aware about these types of citizen science projects,” Nimmerichter says.
Delaware isn’t the only state conducting an atlas, Gonzon says. The idea came from Great Britain and headed to Maryland, which became the first state to complete a bird atlas in the U.S., he says.
Gonzon says it is important to gather accurate and detailed data of breeding birds and the second atlas It would establish a measurement of how thing are changing in the wild.
“From what we have so far it looks like the population of raptors has increased since the last atlas,” Gonzon says.