The mission of the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) is to provide scientifically credible measures of the status and trends of North American bird populations at continental and regional scales to inform biologically sound conservation and management actions. Determining population trends, relative abundance, and distributions of North American avifauna is critical for identifying conservation priorities, determining appropriate conservation actions, and evaluating those actions. The BBS program, jointly coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service, provides the U.S. and Canadian Federal governments, state and provincial agencies, other conservation practitioners, and the general public with science-based avian population trend estimates and other information for regional and national species’ population assessments.
Despite the demonstrated value of the BBS for furthering avian conservation across North America, its importance is often underappreciated, and it is underfunded compared with many other government-supported programs that report on status of the environment. Today, BBS resources, adjusted for inflation, are below the amount allocated in the 1970s and are still only sufficient to support two biologists. Yet the number of routes, participants, data, and data requests has quadrupled. Data and information management and delivery requirements and security concerns, non-existent in 1966, impose further demands on BBS resources. In addition, the Mexican expansion of the BBS offers new hope for a truly continental approach to avian conservation, but also brings additional challenges. Meeting the goals of this plan will take cooperation among myriad stakeholders; yet, even with collaboration, most objectives of this plan will be unattainable if BBS program support is not increased.
The BBS developed this strategic plan to help set priorities and identify resources required for the program to continue to meet the evolving needs of the conservation community for information on bird population change. By setting clear goals, strategies, and measures of success, this plan provides a cohesive framework and vision for maintenance and development of the BBS. The plan identifies two major goals for the BBS, with a number of strategies and objectives to achieve these goals. Over the next 5 years, progress made in addressing each long-term goal and its associated 5-year strategies and objectives will gage the plan’s success. Specific actions, projected outcomes, and measures of success related to accomplishing these are outlined in Table 1, with a timeline in Table 2.
The two main goals for the program, with a summary of the strategies to achieve them, are:
Goal 1: Collect scientifically credible measures of the status and trends of North American bird populations at continental and regional scales.
The North American Breeding Bird Survey will continue to support North American natural resource conservation through the collection of scientifically credible measures of the status and trends of continental bird populations. While doing this, the BBS will work to improve the science behind the program to better meet its mission and the changing needs of the avian conservation community. In partnership with collaborators, the BBS will address detection probability bias and habitat bias, improve analytical methods, and more fully assess and account for observer quality. Moreover, the BBS will improve the quality and breadth of avian population data through strategic increases in route density and the establishment of a Mexican BBS program.
Goal 2: Ensure BBS data and analytical results are widely available and easily accessible for use by the avian conservation and management communities.
At the heart of the BBS lies a four-million-record database containing more than 40 years of data on more than 600 bird species. These data are of no value if not well maintained, appropriately analyzed, and widely and easily accessible. The USGS has greatly improved data management and accessibility in recent years. Trend estimates were first made available via the Internet in the mid-1990s, followed closely by the raw data with baseline metadata and standard operating procedures. Nevertheless, numerous enhancements to data management and the usability of BBS results will greatly improve the ability of the BBS to serve avian conservation goals. The BBS needs to ensure that BBS data and results presented on the web site use the best data-management practices and statistical methods, with adequate documentation for users to understand them and any differences between different trend estimates. Moreover, the BBS needs to increase communication with BBS partners and stakeholders to ensure that it continues to meet the avian population status and trends needs of the conservation community and to encourage the development of new products. Working with collaborators, the BBS will develop tools for integrating environmental parameters like habitat change into the analyses, and for integrating BBS data with other avian survey results. In addition, the BBS will continue to improve data and database management through the incorporation of additional data and data fields, such as georeferenced stop locations and more complete metadata for the raw data and results, thus enhancing the uses that can be made of the data.