Monitoring and Research at TTPBRS

Monitoring and Research at TTPBRS

TTPBRS Monitoring Programs


Monitoring and Research at TTPBRS

Why Monitor Birds?

Birds have an important ecological role through the plants they pollinate, the seeds they disperse, the vast quantities of insects and rodents they consume and the part they play as prey. Because of these important relationships between birds and ecosystems, changes in bird populations can tell a story about the health of the environment. Birds are valuable as "indicator species" because they are relatively easy to observe and there are many different species with diverse habitat requirements for breeding, migrating and over-wintering. In the GTA, the TTPBRS is monitoring migratory and breeding birds to keep track of how different bird species are fairing in different habitats and at different times of the year.

Are bird populations declining, increasing or are they stable?

In order to protect bird populations scientists must first understand where species occur (distribution) and approximately how many there are (abundance). The abundance and diversity of birds and the extensive geographic ranges they inhabit means that bird monitoring must be a coordinated effort between many organized groups from coast to coast to coast. Data from various monitoring programs such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN) indicate that some bird species are declining, some are stable and others are increasing. Each bird species is unique in its ecological requirements for survival, which means that the extent of population change can vary significantly between species. Recent changes in bird populations have been dramatic and point to widespread changes in the environment. A study by the Audubon Society in 2004 indicated that 30% of North American birds are in ?statistically significant decline?. Species such as Rusty Blackbird and Lesser Yellowlegs that depend largely on the Canadian boreal forest have declined by as much as 90% since the 1960s. These reports demonstrate how critical it is to monitor birds in a systematic and scientifically rigorous manner.

How are Birds Monitored by TTPBRS?

All of our bird monitoring programs follow established protocols that ensure data is collected in a consistent manner day to day and year to year, which is essential for the production of applicable data for scientific analysis. We use two main methods of collecting data: bird banding and bird surveys.

Bird Banding







Bird banding has existed for centuries and was initially performed to track movements of individual birds. Banding has now become an essential tool for bird research, monitoring and overall conservation. There are many different methods of capturing birds for banding; the most commonly employed method is the use of fine mesh nets or "mist nets". TTPBRS uses mist nets that are 9m by 2.6m and are stretched between aluminium poles in an area where birds are likely to fly. Birds fly into the net which has pockets that prevent the birds from escaping. Volunteers check the nets every 30 minutes and carefully extract any caught birds.

Birds are then identified to species, sex and age if possible, banded, measured (wing length, weight and fat content) and released. All newly captured birds are fitted with an aluminium bird band issued by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). Each bird band has a unique serial number that enables the individual bird to be identified. Bird banding is important to our monitoring initiatives because it allows us to:

  • Achieve a reliable sample of migratory birds passing through study areas
  • Assess the health and function of migratory flyways in the Toronto area
  • Detect secretive species (species that are difficult to observe on surveys)
  • Evaluate breeding success rates
  • Identify migratory routes, timing of migration, life span and survivorship
  • Educate and inform the general public

At TTPBRS all volunteers go through an intensive training program to ensure that birds are handled in a safe and ethical manner, as bird safety is the first and foremost priority. Only authorized persons with appropriate training are permitted to operate mist nets and handle captured birds at TTPBRS. For more information on bird banding please visit: Canadian Wildlife Service

Surveys



The most commonly used method of monitoring birds is to simply go out and count them! Obviously it is impossible to count every single bird, so it is far more efficient to derive a sample of the birds present in a given area at a given time. There a number of different survey types that correspond to different survey conditions, but the most commonly used methods by TTPBRS are point counts and transects.

Point counts are 5 or 10 minute long stationary counts of all birds seen and heard at a fixed location. They are used primarily to monitor breeding birds during the summer. Each day during spring and fall migration we complete a daily census of all birds seen and heard from a standard walking route or a transect. The census always starts exactly 1 hour after sunrise and takes exactly 60 minutes to complete. Consistency is crucial for successful, meaningful data.

Putting it all Together

Both bird banding and surveys gather data on bird abundance and species diversity at a given location and time. Data from these methods are then synthesized to form a more complete picture of bird activity for a given day. We utilize the two methods in concert because some bird species are easy to observe and are therefore reliably found on surveys, whereas others are very secretive and often missed completely by surveys. For example, the Gray-cheeked Thrush is a cryptic species, more often caught then seen. Between 2003 and 2005 a total of 283 Gray-cheeked Thrushes were banded but only 28 were recorded on surveys! On the other hand, American Pipit has never been banded at TTPBRS, but often number in the hundreds at TTP in late fall. By combining both bird capture and surveys we can produce more accurate daily species totals for population studies. The totals are then sent to Bird Studies Canada for analysis of population trends.

Each monitoring program differs, but the basic principles are the same - deriving a sample through consistent methods over the long term. The annual Nocturnal Owl Monitoring Program of TTPBRS has been operating since 2003 and already one can see the year-to-year variation in numbers of birds recorded. However, several years of data is simply not enough to determine whether or not this variation is attributable to population decline or simply natural highs and lows, only time and our monitoring will tell.

For more information on specific TTPBRS monitoring programs please click here.

Bird Research

TTPBRS has collaborated with researchers on many projects, including the role of migratory birds in the spread of Lyme disease vectors (University of Montreal), the genetic identification of Canadian birds (CWS) and two different projects on warbler genetics (University of Sheffield and Queen's University). Research is encouraged at TTPBRS because we understand that the research station is a valuable resource for the academic community.

 

 

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Monitoring Programs at TTPBRS

Migration Monitoring

Many migratory bird populations are declining mainly because of habitat loss at nesting, migrating and over-wintering sites. In order to protect these species there needs to be a system in place that can monitor them. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is the main North American method used to assess bird populations. However, Canada's northern boreal forests are remote and difficult to survey and yet these forests are the nesting grounds for almost 60% of Canada's summer landbirds. For example, 66% of the population of Blackpoll Warblers and 98% of Palm Warblers breed in the boreal forest (Blancher 2003)! How do we monitor these northern species?

Almost 93% of boreal bird species are migratory; therefore we can monitor them during migration. The location and diverse habitats of TTP make it an important stopover site for migratory birds. The peninsula acts as a kind of "funnel" channeling and concentrating migratory birds from the natural river corridors of the city into a narrow space on the lakeshore. TTP is the southernmost link of the Don River Migratory Bird Corridor, which provides critical resources for birds during migration. The high density and diversity of birds in a small area makes it an ideal location to count them. Migration Monitoring at TTP also provides data on the value of various habitats in the GTA as staging or stopover locations for migratory birds

The Migration Monitoring Program at TTPBRS is operated daily during spring (April 1 - June 9) and fall (August 5 - November 12) migration periods. We begin fieldwork just before dawn each day when we capture and band birds and conduct counts of migrating birds for a standard 7-hour period. Results of the first three years of this program at TTPBRS have demonstrated that the area is a significant stopover site for migratory birds as over 20,000 birds were banded and over 230 different species were recorded! This information is used locally in conservation and planning programs in the GTA and nationally by the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (CMMN).TTPBRS became a member of the CMMN in 2006.

Migration Monitoring at TTPBRS serves as the foundation for all of our work as it provides a platform from which to deliver our educational programs for schools and the general public, participate in collaborative research projects and offer important training opportunities to the student, amateur and professional ornithologist.

 

 

 

Spring 2007: Top Ten Species Banded, 2004-2007

2007 Rank

Species

2007 Banded

2006 Rank

2005 rank

2004 rank

1

White-throated Sparrow

395

1

2

1

2

Myrtle Warbler

208

2

4

2

3

Swainson's Thrush

127

3

3

5

4

Magnolia Warbler

120

9

5

3

5

Slate-colored Junco

118

14

10

20

6

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

107

6

12

12

7

Golden-crowned Kinglet

106

5

1

29

8

Hermit Thrush

105

4

6

10

9

Brown Creeper

102

8

7

34

10

Gray-cheeked Thrush

74

16

22

30

Unusual Species

  • Yellow-crowned Night Heron
  • American White Pelican
  • King Eider
  • Great Gray Owl
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Brewster's Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Clay-coloured Sparrow
  • Dickcissel
  • Hoary Redpoll

Breeding Birds

The distribution and health of local breeding birds is a key interest of TTPBRS and has led to the establishment of several meaningful programs in the GTA that assess summer bird populations. Local wetlands, forests and grasslands are home to a variety of bird species, many of which are of concern to conservationists because their populations are declining. Birds are valuable indicators of environmental health, because they require specific habitat conditions in order to successfully raise their young. Therefore the abundance and productivity of particular "indicator species" can tell us a lot about the health of local habitats and inform our land management practices.

The Breeding Birds of Tommy Thompson Park Project

The Breeding Birds of TTP Project was established in 2005 to provide a thorough assessment of the extent and character of breeding birds at this location. During the months of June and July staff and volunteers of TTPBRS conduct point count surveys, habitat assessments and extensive nest searching and monitoring. Data collected during the first year was submitted to the recently completed Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas and all nest records are sent to the Ontario Nest Records Scheme.

The project provides TRCA with the following:

  • Data on the abundance and diversity of breeding bird species
  • Detailed and accurate nest records
  • A measurement of breeding birds in relation to landscape level changes
  • Assessment of nesting success including parasitism and predation rates
  • Data that can help direct habitat restoration efforts

Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship

Over time, survey methods such as point counts of the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) can determine which species are declining, however these kinds of monitoring programs cannot tell us why. The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) program was launched by the Institute for Bird Populations in California as a means of determining the specific causes for regional population declines. TRCA through the TTPBRS launched the first MAPS station in the GTA in 2006. The station was located in a forested area in Claireville Conservation Area in Brampton. The area is home to many nesting bird species including American Redstart, Wood Thrush and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The operation of the MAPS station over the long-term will fill a key gap in the North America wide MAPS network and provide critical data on the productivity and survivorship of forest birds in the GTA. TRCA is hoping to establish more MAPS stations in strategic areas in their jurisdiction.

Nocturnal Owl Monitoring Program

The research station operates an annual Nocturnal Owl Monitoring Program at TTP that occurs during late fall (October and November). This project is specifically focused on the migratory Northern Saw-whet Owl, a northern breeding species that passes through the Great Lakes region in high numbers. Owls are safely captured and banded during the first 4 hours after sunset on select evenings in late autumn. Between 2003 and 2007 a total of 653 owls were banded at TTPBRS.

Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program

The Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP), coordinated by Bird Studies Canada, was initiated to assess populations of marsh birds and amphibians in the Great Lakes. Like Migration Monitoring and MAPS, the MMP is a network of stations collecting data with a shared protocol. Each summer TTPBRS conducts surveys for birds in key marshes being managed and restored by TRCA.

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Hours of Operation

Tommy Thompson Park is open to the public weekends and holidays, except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year?s Day. Operating hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from November to March and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March to November (coinciding with daylight savings time).

 

Location

Tommy Thompson Park (TTP) is located at the base or foot of Leslie Street where it meets Unwin Avenue, south of Lake Shore Boulevard East.


 

Weather

Lake Ontario moderates TTP's climate, with less heat & humidity in the summer and less snow in the winter than areas immediately north. Prevailing winds are westerly, with faster speeds and greater wind chill effects. Fogs forms twice as often at TTP than the rest of Toronto.