New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

Breeding Bird Atlas

Updated 5/6/09  

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Atlas Exhibit at New York State Museum  EXTENDED THROUGH AUGUST 16, 2009

New York State has become the first state in the nation to publish the results of two breeding bird surveys in the past 20 years, and the significant changes in breeding distributions, discovered through these surveys, will be revealed for the first time in a new exhibition opening at the State Museum October 3.

Mapping the Birds of New York: the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, open through May 22, 2009, is based on two surveys of all of the bird species that breed in the state. One occurred from 1980 to 1985 and the second was conducted from 2000 to 2005, so that biologists could determine what changes occurred over a 20-year period.

The results are available in a new publication, The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, edited by Kevin J. McGowan and Kimberley Corwin. It contains extensive text, maps and tables. The book also includes more than 250 pieces of original art specifically commissioned to illustrate the breeding birds, and many of those originals are displayed in the exhibition. The book should be available in the Museum shop in December.

The atlases show locations where each bird species breeds and provides information on the many factors that affect bird populations. Although bird species generally breed in particular areas regularly and predictably, birds can move and their distributions can change over time. Scientists believe atlases are important because the changes they uncover can reveal a great deal about the health of the bird populations and the environment in which they live. If a species occurs today in fewer areas than it once did, steps can be taken to prevent further decline.

The surveys revealed that 251 of the 467 species recorded in the state, also breed in New York. The other 200 or so species pass through on their way to other areas. Some only spend the winter, while others turn up in the state now and then.

Certain trends were reported. Although the number of breeding species stayed nearly the same, the project found that several species were gained. Half of the species changed their distributions significantly. Of those, more increased than decreased.

One significant species, however, is likely to disappear. The Loggerhead Shrike, already rare during the first Atlas, is no longer breeding in the state, due to loss of agricultural lands, collisions with vehicles and, perhaps, because of the accumulation of pesticides from insects they eat.

The Brown Thrasher declined by 30 percent, showing reduced populations in all sections of the state. The Whip-poorwill’s
population decreased by almost 60 percent, possibly due to industrial pollution, pesticide use and reduced availability of their favored food source.

The survey also noted the incredible expansion of Merlin breeding. The small falcon has established populations both in the wilds of the Adirondacks and in urban areas. These birds are very noisy when nesting; the screams they make can be heard a long distance away. As in the past, the American Robin was found to be the most widespread species in New York. New York’s’ ten most common species have changed little in 20 years. However, some species, such as the Wild Turkey, are now seen much more often than in the past.

The new atlas also addresses the issue of global warming. Although a handful of species that breed south of New York State have shown a significant northward shift, it is not clear yet whether this is in response to climate change. The survey notes that several other factors complicate the issue including New York’s varied geography and an increase in food availability.

More than 1,200 people submitted data for the breeding bird atlas project and spent about 155,000 hours in the field. Participants ranged from novice backyard observers, to professional ornithologists, to a small number of paid surveyors who were assigned to areas that were difficult to access, especially in the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains.

The survey was a cooperative project involving the state Department of Environmental Conservation; the New York State Ornithological Association; Audubon New York and Cornell University’s New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Department of Natural Resources and Lab of Ornithology.

The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department, the University of the State of New York and the Office of Cultural Education. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website.

Museum hours are 9:30 am to 5 pm daily, and the exhibition will be shown through August 16, 2009. Entrance to the museum and the exhibits is free.

In other news, Cornell University Press featured the upcoming publication of the Atlas book on the cover of their Fall catalog. The book will be available for purchase in December. Later this month a special mailing from CUP offering a pre-publication discount will be sent to all who volunteered for the Atlas project.

                 Learn more about the new book!


Field Work for the Atlas Project is Complete!
Thank You!

In the early 1980s, New York was one of the first states to undertake a Breeding Bird Atlas project, mapping the distribution of the more than 250 species of birds that breed in the state. Twenty years later, New York began work on a new Atlas to determine how breeding distributions have changed over the past twenty years.

Between 2000 and 2005, over 1,200 people participated in the atlas project. We attained our goal of 100% coverage of more than 5,300 survey blocks in the state. Volunteers visited each of the habitats represented in their assigned blocks and recorded the behavior of the birds that they saw there, reporting each species as a Possible, Probable, or Confirmed breeder.

The database with over 500,000 records was finalized in August 2005 and work on the publication has been underway since January 2005. Species accounts are complete and will include a discussion of changes between the two atlas periods. More than 15 artists are illustrating the book. Co-editors Kevin McGowan and Kimberley Corwin are working with Cornell University Press and the final publication will be available in 2008.

See the DEC website for data, distribution maps, and more details on this project.

The New York State Ornithological Association worked with the following organizations on this project:

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Audubon New York

Cornell's Department of Natural Resources
The NY Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Cornell University
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

, Chair, Atlas 2000 Steering Committee

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Handy Atlas Links

The NYSDEC Atlas 2000 website
Atlas 2000 Block Maps

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