The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is a long-term, large-scale international avian monitoring program that relies on a combination of agency biologists and dedicated volunteers. The BBS is jointly coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Research Center. The BBS is also conducted in portions of Mexico.
The roots of the BBS can be traced to the public awareness and concern generated by Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring, which described the effects of improper pesticide use, including dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), on birds and other wildlife. Ornithologist Chandler Robbins and colleagues at Patuxent Wildlife Center, whose work on pesticide impacts to birds informed Carson, conceived the idea of a bird survey that could be replicated over a large geographic area as a means to monitor bird populations at a regional or continental level.
The BBS was initiated in 1966, and has continued to the present, although the Covid 19 pandemic caused a one-year lapse in data collection in 2020. While DDT is no longer an issue, North American bird populations still face a variety of threats, from habitat loss and fragmentation to contaminants. The BBS provides a tool to monitor bird populations over time, and if significant declines are detected, hopefully main causes can be identified and mitigated.
Surveys are conducted during the height of avian breeding season (June for most of the United States and Canada). Beginning one half-hour before sunrise, observers drive routes on secondary roads and stop every half mile to conduct a three-minute point count. All species seen or heard within a quarter mile radius are counted. A total of fifty stops per route are surveyed, and each route takes approximately five hours to complete. More than 4,100 routes have been established across the continental United States and Canada.
The BBS website (https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/index.cfm) provides a variety of information, tools, survey results, and raw data. Analysis of BBS data produces indices of population abundance that can be used to estimated population trends and relative abundance at various scales. Population trend estimates are available for over 420 bird species. BBS data was instrumental in documenting declines in Nearctic-neotropical migrant birds, spurring the inception of Partners in Flight in the 1980’s ( https://partnersinflight.org/ ), a voluntary bird conservation partnership of over 150 organizations. Similarly, BBS trend data revealed alarming declines of grassland birds, leading to increased research and conservation efforts for those species beginning about the mid-1990’s. More than 450 scientific publications have utilized BBS data.
Each state or province has a BBS coordinator who works to assign observers to routes. Typically, observers will run the same route for multiple years, but there is frequent turnover, and rarely are all state or provincial routes completed every year. If you are able to identify your state’s breeding birds by sight and sound, you are encouraged to participate. Below are the state coordinators and their contact information for states in the GoMAMN region:
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission
Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Retired)