National Park

Glacier Park bird monitoring part of continent-wide collaboration


Gear in hand, the group sets out through the eerily silent forest of Glacier National Park well before dawn.

As the first rays of the sun make their way over the mountains to the east, more than a dozen biologists, volunteers and interns work hard to install a series of large nets along the shore covered in mist from McDonald Creek.

Their goal for the day is simple: capture as many birds as possible for identification, data collection and banding.

This effort is part of the Institute for Bird Populations’ Avian Productivity and Survival Monitoring (MAPS) program, a continent-wide collaborative effort between government agencies, non-government groups and individuals to assist in the conservation of birds and their habitats.

Every summer since 2020, park biologist Lisa Bate and her colleagues set up the nets and data collection station every 10 days to learn more about Glacier’s bird population.

“We do this so that we can study the causes of changes in bird populations in North America,” she explained. “We are really looking at what is causing the population decline or increase and if the problems are more severe in the winter or on the breeding grounds. We want to see trends in different areas and what are the relationships between population changes and changes in weather, climate and habitat loss.

MAPS bird banders collect data that can be used to estimate key demographic parameters, also known as vital rates, such as productivity, recruitment, and survival of individual bird species. This information helps scientists understand which life stages may be most important in limiting population growth or causing declines.

Since 1989, over 1,200 MAPS stations in nearly every state and province across Canada have collected over 2.5 million bird capture records.

Bate first heard about the program while attending a webinar and decided that Glacier National Park would be the perfect location for a data collection station.

“National parks are great places to get monitoring data on bird species since they have no development, logging or mining. Collecting data in a national park can really tell us a lot about what is going on with certain species.

According to Bate, Yosemite National Park in California has seven data collection stations and has participated in the program for more than 20 years. She hopes Glacier can expand its program in the coming years to help collect as much data as possible.

“We could ring a bird here and it could show up in the southern United States, Mexico or even Central America and we can find out where it moults, where it overwinters and how things like climate change affect that,” said she declared. “These are data that are very useful to biologists.”

In its first three years of operation, Glacier National Park’s MAPS station has captured or observed more than 75 bird species in the park, but Bate says the program has other benefits as well.

“All program staff, volunteers, interns and visitors learn to identify birds and we talk about bird conservation. I love seeing people light up when they hold a bird in their hands for the first time,” she said. “I also want young people to get outside and get more involved in wildlife conservation. I think it’s one of the best programs we have to get people interested. It’s a great way to light a fire under the next generation of biologists and scientists.

The program has already overcome a number of challenges in its first three years, but Bate says it will take a few more seasons before scientists can glean patterns from the data collected.

“You have to run a MAPS station for at least five years to be able to see trends in the data, so we’re still learning what’s going on with the bird population in Glacier National Park,” she said. . “With us though, it could take longer than that since we started in a year with Covid and then the next year had flooding. Sometimes science takes a little time.

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