Gov. Peter Shumlin and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE)
recently announced the publication of the Second Atlas of Breeding
Birds of Vermont, the most complete assessment of birds ever
assembled for the state and an encyclopedia of avian knowledge for
everyone from scientists to school students to backyard
The 10-year atlas project recruited more than 300 Vermont
volunteers to catalog 202 bird species nesting in the state,
identifying species at risk and others faring well.
The Governor noted that a survey last year by the U.S.
Department of Fish and Wildlife found that Vermont ranks first in
the nation with the most wildlife watchers per capita (53 percent
of Vermonters compared to a U.S. average of 30 percent.)
"Now we have a book to celebrate that dedication," he said
during a news conference at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in
Williston. "The Breeding Bird Atlas is based firmly on science, but
it's a book for everyone."
This second atlas is noteworthy, the Governor said, because it
reveals population trends in Vermont birds since completion of the
states' first atlas in the 1980s.
"We cannot know the nature of Vermont, the health of woodlands,
wetlands and other wild places, without knowing the status of our
birds," said Dr. Rosalind Renfrew, a biologist at VCE who ran the
project and edited the atlas. "This atlas will be essential reading
for any Vermont conservationist."
The book features a detailed account of every nesting species,
and includes 208 photographs, 415 maps, 591 tables and 215 graphs.
VCE is donating atlases, priced at $75, to 150 libraries across the
state. Atlas results are also online.
With support from the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, VCE
recruited 350 volunteers to search the state for breeding birds
from 2003 through 2007. Data analysis and production of the book
continued until 2013.
The atlas examines trends, including:
• Managed Species gained ground, at least in part, as a result
of human intervention. Of the 17 birds showing the project's
greatest gains on a percentage basis, nine regularly intersect the
lives of people, either as protected species (Osprey and Bald
Eagle), at the bird feeder (Carolina Wren and Tufted Titmouse) or
as managed game species (Mallard and Wild Turkey.)
• Grassland Species declined since the first atlas project,
reflecting national trends. Upland Sandpipers and Grasshopper
Sparrows are nearly absent from the state; Vesper Sparrow,
Eastern Meadowlark, and Horned Lark are breeding in fewer areas.
American Kestrel and Bobolink remain fairly widespread in proper
habitat, but their numbers are declining nonetheless. In Vermont,
loss of farmland, coupled with intensification of haying, have
contributed to drops in grassland birds. One notable exception the
loss of grassland birds was an increase in Northern Harriers.
• Aerial Insectivores, birds that feed mostly on flying insects,
such as Nightjars, Flycatchers, Swifts and Swallows, showed
disturbing population trends. Among 18 aerial insectivores, 13
species declined and the remainder either gained population or
remained relatively unchanged since the first atlas. The Common
Nighthawk and Whip-poor-will showed the most precipitous
drops. Bank and Cliff Swallows, Purple Martin, Olive-sided and
Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and Chimney Swift all showed declines
since the first atlas. Unlike grassland species, aerial
insectivores span a diversity of habitats, but a common cause for
the population declines may be a drop in insect prey abundance.
Additional concerns include mercury and other atmospheric toxins
accumulating in insects, and loss of breeding and wintering habitat
for some species.
• Wetland Birds generally fared well since the first atlas. This
is another diverse group, occupying forests and open wetlands, and
ranging from Pied-billed Grebe to Swamp Sparrow. Among wetland
species, more than three times as many species gained population as
lost. Most species nesting in forested wetlands (swamps) increased,
suggesting some level of improvement in wetland quality in
"This project demonstrates what can be accomplished when people
pull together for a common goal," said Steve Parren, Wildlife
Diversity Program Director at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife
Department, who wrote the book's forward. "The Vermont Center for
Ecostudies, the Fish and Wildife Department, other nonprofits and
organizations, as well as an army of volunteers worked
together for conservation and made the dream of a second Vermont
Breeding Bird Atlas a reality."
Photo by Brian Pfeiffer