Mountain Birdwatch


Mountain Birdwatch (MBW) is a point-count based, long-term monitoring program for Bicknell's Thrush and other montane forest birds. MBW began under the Vermont Center for Ecostudies' (VCE) Forest Bird Monitoring Program. Volunteers surveyed 12 mountains from 1993-1999 in order to monitor changes in the status of Bicknell’s Thrush (Catharus bicknelli) and other high-elevation songbirds. In 2000, VCE biologists launched MBW as an independent program with fifty additional routes in Vermont and offered observers the option to concentrate on five species: Bicknell’s Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata), White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), and Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes). In 2010, VCE and collaborators launched a revised, expanded monitoring program, Mountain Birdwatch 2.0 (MBW2). MBW2 incorporates randomly-selected routes, an improved survey protocol, an eleven-species focus, and a collaboration with Canadian partners to systematically monitor Bicknell’s Thrush across its entire breeding range.


MBW has been field tested for over ten years and has evolved and updated protocols and routes during that time. Rigorous new protocols are based on the guiding principles of Opportunities for Avian Monitoring, a report of the Monitoring Subcommittee of the north American Bird Conservation Initiative (U.S. NABCI 2007), and random selection of routes across appropriate habitat will allow scientists to draw broad conclusions about the status and trends of high-elevation breeders of the Northeast. Until recently, MBW has been implemented in VT, ME, NH and NY.  An ongoing partnership between VCE and Bird Studies Canada, Regroupment QuébecOiseaux, and the Canadian Wildlife Service has allowed for expansion of the program to the montane spruce-fir forests of Canada. 


Currently, the biggest challenge with MBW is making it work in all of its participating regions- the U.S., the Canadian Maritimes, and Quebec. The route selection protocol was based on a model of potential habitat for Bicknell's Thrush in the U.S. and Canada, with most of this potential habitat in Canada. However, the highest densities of Bicknell's Thrush seem to be in the U.S., and much of the "potential" habitat in CA is not currently usable habitat (for example, some of it has been logged). Right now, Canada has a very large proportion of their routes on which the flagship species is not detected. With such low detection rates, it may be difficult for the program to meet its analysis goals in the desired time period; also, it is difficult for Canadian partners to financially sustain a program with such low numbers of detections of the flagship species. Currently, MBW is looking at ways to focus efforts in Canada on routes that are more likely to yield Bicknell's Thrush detections without sacrificing the protocol's randomness entirely. While survey protocols are set, the route selections may change somewhat in upcoming years.

Examples of use

Data collected from MBW have been used to: detect population trends (Lambert et al. 2001) examine the influence of landscape structure on high-elevation bird communities (Lambert et al. 2002) measure habitat characteristics on 45 survey routes (Lambert 2003) quantify short-term population trends (Lambert 2005)produce and validate a Bicknell’s Thrush distribution model (Lambert et al. 2005); and project effects of climate change on Bicknell’s Thrush distribution (Lambert and McFarland 2004). MBW data has also identified key management units and conservation opportunities for Bicknell’s Thrush (Lambert 2003).

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