A recent study revealed that Acadia National Park‘s winter bird population has decreased by almost 50% since 1971. For their study, the researchers at Schoodic Institute of Acadia National Park utilized data from the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. This is one of America’s most renowned citizen science initiatives, Portland’s WGME 13 reports. Over the last 50 years, researchers have noted a decrease of 43 percent in bird activity around Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula.
Schoodic Institute Data Analyst Kyle Lima led the study and weighed in on the findings “Birds are messengers of rapid environmental change, in this case reflecting changes in one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S.,” Lima explained. “We must pay attention to these changes and work intentionally with nature to adapt.”
From the winter counts of 162 species, a shocking 42 have seen a significant decrease in numbers. This includes some of the most ubiquitous birds such as eiders and long-tailed ducks. This affects both migratory and resident bird populations profoundly. Although there are fewer birds overall, an encouraging 33 species have experienced a surge in numbers. “Birds are shifting their home ranges and chasing their suitable habitat as conditions change,” explained Lima. “Species that are common to our south are becoming more common here. For example, the northern cardinal has been increasing steadily since the 1970s, when they were uncommon.”
Acadia National Park hopes to turn bird population trends around
“The birds at Acadia are extremely important both ecologically and as an amazing visitor experience,” explained Acadia National Park Biologist Bik Wheeler. “This study shows us that regional and continental declines are happening at a local level at Acadia. We need to identify causes for these declines and pursue opportunities for stewardship, because there is good news here, too. Bird stewardship works, and we can turn population trends around.”
Though not a typical winter inhabitant, the Peregrine Falcon has become more common in the Christmas Bird Count over time and was first observed in 1992. Scientists Nick Fisichelli, Seth Benz, and Peter Nelson of the Schoodic Institute helped with the recent analysis in addition to Bill Townsend, a Christmas Bird Count compiler and retired National Park Service Ranger.
“This work would not have been possible without Bill, Michael Good, and other count compilers who led the efforts, and the more than 50 community volunteers. Together, they have spent numerous hours out in frigid temperatures counting birds in the middle of winter,” detailed Schoodic Institute Bird Ecology Director Seth Benz. “This long-term effort has required a long-term commitment, but without it we would not be able to know that winter bird populations have shown alarming decreases.”
Initially founded in 1900 as an alternative to the archaic “side hunt” tradition, the Christmas Bird Count allows volunteers to survey and track birds within a specific area for 24 hours. This enables researchers to develop an understanding of which avian species inhabit certain areas during winter months. Citizen scientists have been taking part in this count around Acadia National Park since 1933; however, it wasn’t until 1971 that surveys including both Mount Desert Island and Schoodic Peninsula were consistently taken year after year.