Mass Audubon's Breeding Bird Atlas 2
Since the data collection for Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas 1 was completed in 1979, significant changes have occurred in the Commonwealth's natural landscape. According to Mass Audubon's report, Losing Ground: At What Cost?, our state lost 40 acres per day to visible development between 1985 and 1999, and when the hidden effects of such development are taken into account, the true level of human impact has been closer to 78 acres a day. This means, for example, that between 2000 and 2002 alone, approximately 40,000 acres of forest and agricultural land were lost to residential and commercial development.
Such large-scale changes in the landscape are nothing new. In Thoreau's day, Massachusetts had been largely cleared of forest and consisted mainly of agricultural fields and pastures; today the forests have returned and farmland is rapidly dwindling. Such changes in land use, and now in climatic conditions, will continue to alter the natural environment.
These changes have profound effects on the populations of native plants and animals, effects that are especially conspicuous in the case of birds. During our pastoral period upland sandpipers, eastern meadowlarks, and vesper sparrows were among the most familiar birds of our countryside, while forest denizens such as pileated woodpeckers were rare.
With the return of the forest, this great black "carpenter bird", the pileated woodpecker, now inhabits the well-wooded bedroom communities of Boston-while the future of the above named open country species, along with brown thrashers, eastern towhees and other birds of the "successional" shrublands, seems in doubt. Similarly, a warming trend in recent decades is probably at least in part responsible for the increased abundance here of "southern" species such as red-bellied woodpecker and Carolina wren. Will the same trend also result in a loss of certain species, e.g. by drowning our coastal marshes?
Designing strategies to ensure the conservation of the Commonwealth's rich avifauna requires a precise understanding of how Massachusetts' birdlife is changing. We need to track population trends – not only of the rarest species, but of all of the 200-plus breeding birds of the state. With the foundation of the first breeding bird atlas soundly laid in 1979, it is time to undertake Atlas 2.
The new Atlas will repeat the basic methodology from Atlas 1. Starting spring 2007, volunteers will be asked to spend a minimum of 20 hours finding all the nesting species in each of 970 ten-square-mile blocks across the state. At the end of five years, when the resulting data are compared to those of Atlas 1, we will have a greatly enhanced understanding of how populations of Massachusetts' breeding birds changed in the previous three decades.
Though grounded in sound scientific methodology, a breeding bird atlas is not, for the most part, carried out by specialists. To be successful we need hundreds of volunteers – people like you – to go into the fields and forests and urban parks of Massachusetts and find out where the birds are. Please help us fill in the pieces of this living puzzle and ensure the future of our Commonwealth of birds.
Please read on for a description of atlas methodology and how you can help.