Overview of bird surveys


Data from bird surveys provide information on population status and trends that help identify species or populations requiring conservation action. Changes in distribution and status can also serve as an early-warning system by highlighting potential environmental problems, can help refine research priorities, and can help track the success of ongoing management activities.

There are many different ways to survey birds. The type and scale of survey depend on the questions being asked and the type of bird being surveyed. For example, territorial landbirds are often surveyed by counting the number of singing males detected during a timed survey (a point count). Seabirds are often counted when they congregate into large, well-known breeding colonies. Waterfowl surveys can involve many different agencies, since large expanses of land on both sides of the border must be surveyed from the air, with supplemental ground surveys to estimate detectability.

The type of survey also dictates whether volunteer birders can participate; some surveys depend partly or entirely on volunteer participation (they are identified below), while some surveys are restricted to professional biologists with advanced or specialized training to count birds from aircraft or to work on remote islands.

Some of the major surveys in Canada are listed below, grouped by the principal bird group they target. Please note that some surveys collect data on birds from several bird groups. Surveys that depend on volunteers (citizen scientists) are listed under Volunteer Opportunities. These lists concentrate on multi-species surveys that provide large-scale, long-term information to Environment and Climate Change Canada on bird population trends and distribution in Canada. Much of these data have been synthesized on the Status of Birds in Canada website. However, there are many other local or regional surveys that are not listed here. For further information, please refer to lists such as those curated by Bird Studies Canada or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Information on surveys specific to species at risk in Canada can also be found in the species' Recovery Strategies and/or Assessment Reports, if applicable. Please visit the Species At Risk website for more information.

Surveys by bird group

Photo of Wilson's Warbler by Tony Battiste
Photo: © Tony Battiste, 2015
Wilson's Warbler

Landbird surveys

Many of these are multi-species surveys; however most are optimized for landbirds. (Songbirds, Raptors, Doves, Swifts, Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers)

See Landbird surveys


Photo of Snow Goose by Ingrid Taylar
Photo: © Ingrid Taylar, 2015
Snow Goose

Waterfowl surveys

(Ducks, Geese and Swans)

See Waterfowl surveys


Photo of Semipalmated Sandpiper by Mark Peck
Photo: © Mark Peck, 2015
Semipalmated Sandpiper

Shorebird surveys

(Stilts, Oystercatchers, Plovers, Sandpipers, Curlews, Godwits, Phalaropes, Turnstones)

See Shorebird surveys


Photo of Great Shearwater by Cotinis
Photo: © Cotinis, 2015
Great Shearwater

Seabird and inland waterbird surveys

(Loons, Grebes, Albatrosses, Fulmars, Petrels, Shearwaters, Storm-Petrels, Cormorants, Pelicans, Herons, Bitterns, Rails, Coots, Jaegers, Skuas, Murres, Guillemots, Murrelets, Puffins, Auklets, Gulls, Terns)

See Seabird and Inland Waterbird surveys


Volunteer opportunities

Many surveys rely on participation from volunteers, or citizen scientists. This list provides an overview of some surveys that encourage and depend on citizen scientists of all ages and skill levels.

See Volunteer Surveys

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