Trade in Those Online Surveys for the Outdoor Kind

We are inundated with them. Surveys on the phone, online and even in the mall. But surveys can help us determine populations, income, poverty, housing and more. This data tracks the health of people groups and living conditions, various consumer and eating habits, and a host of other demographic and economic trends.

Partners Team Up to Count

Did you know that many of the world’s conservation efforts depend on surveys? Surveys provide the information we need to properly care for many species in the wild. The Zoo has provided annual financial support to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) since 2010. This important partnership focuses on protecting native species right here in Oklahoma through annual wildlife surveys. Zoo staff members team up with ODWC’s wildlife biologists to collect data on bats, lesser prairie chickens and bird species that spend their winters in Oklahoma. This opportunity enables the Zoo to directly contribute to local conservation. It also gives ODWC biologists extra people power to survey larger areas of the state.

Surveys are Good for Conservation

This year, four Zoo employees took part in the annual Winter Bird Survey in early February on the Okmulgee and Deep Fork Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in eastern Oklahoma. They spent four days assisting ODWC biologists in spotting, identifying and counting birds. Monitoring bird populations is especially important because more than one third of North America’s 448 land bird species have a declining population trend. Eighty-three of these species are in need of urgent conservation action and have been placed on a Watch List compiled by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. Tracking these bird populations, and all types of birds, each year informs and guides conservation efforts. Keeping common birds common is just as important as protecting rare species. Massive population losses are occurring across several groups of common species, including aerial insectivores and grassland birds. Thus, the ODWC Winter Bird Survey records sightings of all birds.

What the Data Shows

The results of this year’s survey were surprising. The teams counted Individual birds from 45 different species on the Deep Fork WMA and individual birds from 51 bird species on the Okmulgee WMA. They spotted species on the Watch List including the Harris’s Sparrow and Red-headed Woodpecker. They also spotted birds of declining populations including the Rusty Blackbird, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhee, Field Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark.  Some uncommon (but not declining) birds spotted included the Wilson’s Snipe, Pileated Woodpecker, Marsh Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow and Swamp Sparrow.

North American birds are declining due to habitat loss, which several coordinated conservation efforts are addressing. But the task is massive given the number of species, the variety of habitat types, and the fact that many bird species need both breeding and wintering habitat. Another huge threat to North American birds is predation by domestic cats. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds each year. Collisions with human-made objects (e.g., building windows, power lines, cars, and wind turbines) and exposure to agricultural chemicals also account for the annual loss of around 900 million birds.

Get Involved in Surveys that Count!

Some of these threats to the health and safety of birds are within our control as individuals. Here is a list of actions you can take to help birds:

  • Keep your cats inside. Even well-fed house cats, kill vast numbers of birds.
  • Apply American Bird Conservancy Bird Tape to your windows to prevent collisions.
  • If you work in a tall office building, ask about reducing night lighting in and on the building. This saves energy too!
  • Participate in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This is a powerful citizen science project in which thousands of volunteers count birds in their yards, neighborhoods, or farther afield and add it to a collective database. The data is used to guide conservation action. Please visit the Audubon organization for more information.
  • Become a Zoo member or renew your membership. The Zoo uses funds from Zoo memberships to support its conservation partners, including ODWC.

– Dr. Rebecca Snyder, Zoo curator of conservation and science

Photo credits: Jena Donnell, ODWC

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