How Does the Atlas Work?

The Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas is a scientifically designed, five-year project to assess the status, distribution and abundance of bird species that breed within Manitoba.  Data collection for this Atlas begins in 2010 and continues through 2014.  Pivotal to atlas success is the participation of large numbers of volunteer birdwatchers that contribute their time and skills by gathering data.  Breeding Bird Atlases have been produced in many European countries and throughout North America. Some jurisdictions have completed two or more breeding bird atlases. This will be our first in Manitoba.

Atlases typically are repeated every 20 years to document changes in bird distribution that may reflect changes in forestry, agriculture, urban expansion, climate change, natural disasters, bird feeding, other natural or man-made forces, and ultimately ecosystem health.  The Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas will help establish a baseline against which future change can be compared. The Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas will produce the most comprehensive dataset ever assembled in this province.

Some people may think of an atlas as a book, but a breeding bird atlas is much more than that. The Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas will be a living document and a legacy for all Manitobans. Over the course of the next five years, the various data pages of this website will be constantly updated as we receive more and more data from volunteers. The maps that will be displayed on this web page will be interactive, allowing you to view a specific region or square or the province-wide results for any given species. After completion of data collection, we will publish bilingual printed editions of the atlas. These editions will include various spatial analyses and refined abundance estimates. The data themselves will be stored in a complete and fully-searchable database containing details of specific observations that will be available for use by scientists, environmental assessors, biologists, municipal planners, students and others.  

How Do You “Atlas” for Birds?

The first, and most basic bird atlassing method, called "general atlassing", consists of finding evidence of breeding for as many species as possible in a 10km x 10km square.  For example, singing birds in their breeding habitat in their breeding season are recorded as "possible" breeders; pairs of birds, agitated or displaying birds are "probable" breeders; and nests, distraction displays or fledged young are recorded as "confirmed" breeding.  These data provide information on the distribution of birds throughout Manitoba.

The second bird sampling method is called point counting.  This method is used to estimate the relative abundance of bird species in different squares to give a picture of where the populations of each species are concentrated.  Collecting abundance data will be optional for atlassers, but will be encouraged for experienced birders, provided they can identify most birds in their area by song.

The third sampling method involves collecting more precise documentation of the breeding sites of rare species and colonial species. Participants will be encouraged to fill out nest record cards with detailed information for any nests they find. However, particular emphasis will be placed on species that are either rare in Manitoba or regionally rare, as well as species such as American White Pelican and Snow Geese that nest in colonies.  Details of breeding locations and the size of colonies will be requested on special data forms. Data resulting from all of these atlassing methods will be submitted to the Atlas staff either on scannable data forms, or via the website.  Data will be checked for errors, and then made available through interactive maps and web pages.  

When registering for the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas, please consider your skill level. Most observers will focus on general atlassing. This is fun and easy to do! If you are uncertain of the identification of a particular bird you can seek assistance or submit photographs. To help you judge the level of commitment necessary, we ask that you complete 20 hours of general atlassing over the five-year period (2010 - 2014) for each atlassing square that you sign up for.

Monitoring the ecosystem in your area makes you part of a broader community seeking to be informed about the environment and actively involved in conservation and management. Thank you for caring!

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Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas, Bird Studies Canada, Box 24-200 Saulteaux Cr Winnipeg, MB R3J 3W3
Phone: 1-888-448-2473 E-mail:
Banner photo: Christian Artuso