Pennsylvania Calls on Citizens to Join the Fight for Bird Conservation

Black turkey vulture flyingPhoto by Frank Cone on

HARRISBURG, PA — In a world where every backyard chirp contributes to the growing chorus of wildlife conservation, all eyes in the Keystone State are now on its feathered residents. The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in collaboration with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, has set in motion the third Pennsylvania Bird Atlas, a comprehensive 7-year survey of the state’s avian population.

From now until 2029, this expansive project aims to create an extensive map of avian life in Pennsylvania, tracking not only species diversity but also quantity and location. This bird atlas, as Game Commission Ornithologist Sean Murphy elucidates, will capture a moment in the life of the state’s birds, offering priceless insights for long-term conservation plans.

What makes this project unique, however, is its reliance on citizen scientists. The Pennsylvania Bird Atlas beckons volunteers across the state to join the effort. This isn’t just about professional ornithologists or birdwatching enthusiasts. Instead, it’s about every Pennsylvanian who has a moment to spare, an interest in the outdoors, or a curiosity about the creatures sharing their environment.

Amber Wiewel, the full-time coordinator of the atlas, leads a team of dedicated bird counters. However, the majority of the data emerges from volunteers, from nature aficionados to casual observers, all contributing to the project’s success. The atlas champions an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ philosophy, seeking particularly to hear from those living in remote parts where bird data is sparse and valuable, as emphasized by Stefan Karkuff, the Game Commission’s Avian Recovery Biologist.

Historical bird atlases, such as those conducted in the 1980s and early 2000s, have illuminated both triumphs and trials in bird conservation. They have spotlighted success stories like the thriving woodpeckers and catbirds, the latter boasting 12% of the world’s population in Pennsylvania, while also highlighting the plight of state-endangered species like the American goshawk and state-threatened northern harriers.

The third atlas comes with new threads of exploration. For the first time, it focuses on birds wintering in the state, setting a baseline for future winter surveys. This atlas also introduces special surveys for elusive species like marsh birds, nightjars, and nocturnal birds. The goal is not simply to track where birds exist, but also paint a picture of their abundance, a crucial data point for their conservation.

The Pennsylvania Bird Atlas stands as a testament to the potential of community science. As Murphy puts it, every report, whether it’s about a single nesting species or a hundred, contributes to the atlas. Encouraging citizens to record their sightings on eBird, this ambitious project is not just about bird counting, but about mutual survival, about a healthier ecosystem and, ultimately, about a more harmonious world.

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