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Amateur Ornithologists: Past, Present and Future.

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1 Amateur Ornithologists: Past, Present and Future

2 The First Citizen Scientists Early citizen scientists/naturalists included some of the founding fathers of American Ornithology. Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, etc. Main challenge to scientists, citizens, collectors, etc. was identification. Early efforts focused on basic taxonomy, identification, inventories, etc. Main tool of the trade was a Gun, not binoculars! “No branch of biology has felt the hand of the amateur like ornithology” - Harold Mayfield American Siskin, Rosebreasted Grosbeak, Green black throated Warbler Yellow rump Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Solitary Flycatcher Photo courtesy of: Janet Haven & University of Virginia

3 J.J. Audubon’s “Birds of America” pictured over 430 species with notes on ecology and taxonomy. Is still a standard that other bird artists are compared to. After a failed business and no prospects, left wife and 2 kids for a rugged adventure across the deep south. His works were a huge success and cultivated an interest in birds, the American experience and conservation that many citizens and scientists alike followed. The First Citizen Scientists Photo courtesy of the Audubon Society

4 Early Efforts The First Christmas Bird Count (CBC) occurred on Christmas Day Frank Chapman proposed that Audubon members and birders should start a new holiday tradition by going out and cencusing birds on Christmas Day. 25 cities participated from California to the NE US and tallied a total of 90 species. One of the original counts was in North Freedom, Sauk County! That count was done by one observer for 2 hours and totaled 12 species. Photo courtesy of the Audubon Society

5 Prior to the twentieth century, most birders and birding in general was done by gun. Shoot first and ID later! At the turn of the century binoculars of various types made birding and citizen science more possible and much less dangerous. Not to mention less destructive to the very bird populations that many early citizen scientists were trying to save! The Door is Opened.... Photo courtesy of the Zeiss Historical Society

6 ..... a little wider Prior to publishing A Field Guide to the Birds (1934), birding, citizen science, ornithology was limited to those whom were connected with bird clubs, collectors, etc. This and subsequent works brought nature to the masses and thus compounded the potential impact and effort by citizen scientists everywhere. “In this century, no one has done more to promote an interest in living creatures than Roger Tory Peterson, inventor of the modern field guide.” - Paul Ehrlich Photo courtesy of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History

7 Birth of the WSO The advent of state ornithological societies, Audubon chapters, and other regional bird clubs spurred more involvement in citizen science. Birders, amateur ornithologists and professionals were finally becoming connected as one unit. Beginning in 1939 WSO began to publish and record field notes from observers all over the state. Page courtesy of the University of Wisconsin

8 Citizen Science Grows New Wings Prompted by a midwestern woman’s concern over DDT killing Robins. Federal Breeding Bird Survey was unique in that in combined the efforts of thousands of volunteers with leading ornithologists, statisticians, etc. Today over 3700 active routes with close to 3000 surveyed on an annual basis. Made it possible to assess bird populations at large geographic scales and also highlighted whole guilds of birds that were in trouble. Photo courtesy of the USGS Federal Breeding Bird Survey

9 The Flock multiplies

10 Where are we now? Pic by Mike McDowell

11 Christmas Bird Count 100 years Concern in the NE and Great Lakes about declines in EVGR populations. CBC data shows a biennial irruptive population. After increases in the NE during the 50’s and 60’s, populations are now declining. CBC is proving very valuable to assess populations of these and other irruptive boreal species that the BBS cannot monitor. Data from the Audubon Society

12 Federal Breeding Bird Survey pic by Mike McDowell

13 Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas Rapidly shifting ranges Large zone of hybridization Causes? What will this map look like in the next Atlas? Data from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology

14 A Coordinated Effort for the Future Bird Conservation is blessed to have hundreds of partner groups from all different walks of life that are actively seeking ways to conserve bird populations. The Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative (WBCI) is currently working on a coordinated bird monitoring plan that will help all bird conservation partners to realize where they fit into the overall monitoring picture. Two goals: Ensure that all groups of birds are monitored and to evaluate the large-scale management issues that will greatly effect bird populations for the forseeable future.

15 Where are the monitoring gaps? Mike McDowell Background Photo Courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR

16 Future of Citizen Science? The future will demand more and more of amateur birdwatchers to generate data used in conservation planning and action. Many new surveys and research projects are on the verge of being started with citizen scientists in mind. Expanding need and shrinking budgets will require more and more from citizen scientists. The average birder will soon be able to contribute something to a local, statewide, or national survey or research project throughout the year. Examples of new surveys include: nocturnal bird monitoring, secretive marsh birds, IBA inventories and monitoring, shorebird surveys, cavity nesters, rare bird inventories, etc. This ever-expanding role of the citizen will require more and more coordination from groups like Cornell (E-bird), WBCI, DNR, etc.

17 “Let no one tell you again that science is only for specialists; it is not. It is no different from history or good talk or reading a novel; some people do it better and some worse; some make a life’s work of it; but it is within reach of everybody.” - Jacob Bronowski


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