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May 11, 2021

At the USGS, more than one hundred staff members are dedicated to the scientific study of migratory birds. Bird biologists work with natural resource managers to develop conservation measures and improved management strategies to help sustain migratory bird populations and their habitats.  

Ducks and geese float on the water at the Cosumnes River Preserve
The Cosumnes River Preserve is a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway for migrating and wintering waterfowl. Over 250 species of birds have been sighted on or near the Preserve, including the Swainson's hawk, Canada geese, numerous ducks, and sandhill cranes.(Credit: Bob Wick, BLM. Public domain.)

Birds inspire and amaze us in countless ways. They contribute to the amazing biodiversity of species on Earth and are a source of recreation for millions of bird watchers and enthusiasts. They also provide ecosystem benefits that include pest control, pollination of plants, and they serve as food sources for other wildlife. While some species of birds are common, many are facing precipitous declines.  

Long-term research on migratory birds occurs at Science Centers and Field Stations across the United States, and at the National Wildlife Health Center and the Bird Banding Laboratory. The USGS leads the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) which is a cooperative effort between the USGS and Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service to monitor the status and trends of North American bird populations. Researchers compile and deliver population data and population trend analyses on more than 400 bird species, for use by conservation managers, scientists, and the public. 

To showcase the breadth of research topics and outstanding knowledge gaps on migratory birds, we published the U.S. Geological Survey Migratory Bird Science, 2020-21 report which provides a collection of ongoing science activities related to migratory birds and habitats that they depend on. The report includes short narratives of ongoing science activities by USGS scientists and partners that support the conservation and management of migratory birds. The report uses the geographic framework of the North American Flyway Councils and provides stakeholders with current information on USGS-partnered work and allows those interested to connect with USGS scientists leading these efforts. 

Lesser Scaup
A male lesser scaup watches as researchers examine the vermiculation, or speckled pattern, on his wing feathers. (Credit: Jennifer Wall, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Public domain.)

Research activities address the following information needs: 

  • Migratory and nonbreeding ecology 
  • Population dynamics and distributions 
  • Conservation genetics 
  • Breeding ecology 
  • Effects of energy development 
  • Response of habitat change and management 
  • Health, disease and contaminants 
  • Support of restoration and species recovery 
  • Monitoring and population estimation techniques 

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