Birding volunteers needed

Published 9:50 pm Friday, March 10, 2017

A statewide project aims to collect data on which bird species are breeding in Virginia, and the help of volunteers from across the state — including right here in Suffolk and the surrounding area — is needed.

The second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas will gather data collected by volunteer birders during a five-year period to determine where birds are living and breeding in the state.

“We’re trying to get a much better sense of the distribution of birds across the state of Virginia and actually get evidence of whether they’re breeding,” said Dr. Ashley Peele, a research associate with Virginia Tech’s Conservation Management Institute. “We’re trying to collect evidence that they’re actually breeding and not just there.”

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The project is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The first Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas was done in the 1980s. It’s time for an update, Peele said.

“The data we’re collecting is going to be pretty crucial in shaping our conservation and management strategies going forward,” Peele said. “It’s an awesome way for a lot of people to have an impact on our bird conservation efforts in the state.”

Volunteers will be asked to collect more data than typical wildlife counts, which would simply ask them to spot and identify the species.

But birders participating in this survey will be asked to identify breeding behaviors, everything from territorial displays between two males to spotting a nest with juvenile birds.

“It’s taking time to watch what the birds are doing,” Peele said.

Volunteers, depending on their experience with birding, could start in their backyard or neighborhood but also could branch out if they are more experienced. Beginners can work with more advanced birders. Each volunteer covers about nine square miles.

Birds commonly seen in the Suffolk area will include hawks, owls, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, Carolina wrens, bluebirds and others, Peele said.

The project will be a great way to learn more about the community and the natural world around us, Peele said.

“There’s no way we could get this work done if it weren’t for the volunteer effort,” she said. “They get to engage more with the outdoors and with the organisms living in their backyard.”

The project will give scientists a much better idea of how conservation efforts, landscape changes, habitat degradation and other things are affecting the bird populations.

The project also highlights the importance of citizen scientists, Peele noted.

The first year of data collection has taken place, with more than 210 species identified and 174 of those confirmed as breeding in Virginia. The European starling, northern cardinal and American robin were among the most abundant identified in the first year.

However, plenty of volunteers are still needed. Fewer than half of the priority blocks and about a third of the total blocks are filled with a volunteer, so more are needed.

There’s a smartphone app and a website where birders can submit the data they collect, making it simple to volunteer.

The regional coordinator, Robert Ake, can be reached at Visit for more information about the project or to volunteer.