Friday, October 5, 2012

Highlights of the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas to date

After only three years of fieldwork (2010, 2011, 2012), the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas ( is already turning up plenty of surprises. This post offers a glimpse into what we are finding thanks to:

   870 registered volunteers, who have put in
   over 21,000 hours of survey effort consisting of
   over 160,000 records of
   287 species breeding in
   over 2100 atlas grid squares (a grid square is 10 km X 10 km)
   and with over 16,000 point counts in over 1,100 squares….

For a “small” province like Manitoba (in terms of human population), chalking up this much effort is a phenomenal achievement and we have two more years to go to get even better!

Some of the biggest highlights to date have been confirming four species breeding in the province for the very first time! In 2010, Ken De Smet found a nest of Black-headed Grosbeak and David Raitt confirmed breeding Western Tanagers for the first time in Manitoba. The two photos below are ones I took recently in Manitoba. All the photos in this blog post are mine but you can view the photos of other atlassers at:

In 2011, Ken De Smet found Manitoba’s first nest of Snowy Egret and apparently only the second breeding record in Canada. The nest was at Whitewater Lake where I took this photo.

In 2012, there was a rash of Long-tailed Jaeger reports. I found three pairs near Schmock Lake just south of the Nunavut border (photos below) and Joel Kayer and Ken De Smet found a nest at Nejanilini Lake – the first confirmed breeding in our province! 

There were some other great finds too; for example, the Wapusk National Park survey team (a joint effort of Parks Canada and the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas) found three Golden Eagle nests along the Broad River. These are the first confirmed Golden Eagle nests in Manitoba in over half a century although there are other unconfirmed reports.   

This male Lazuli Bunting has been on the same territory in southwestern Manitoba for three years in a row. Unfortunately, we have yet to confirm breeding although there have now been some sightings of a female.

In addition the headline makers, the atlas has produced a plethora of excellent nesting records from many out of the way places. These two photos show a Red-throated Loon and nest – this nest I found this summer was the first of two found to date.

Some waterbirds such as American White Pelican (found well north of known colonies) and others like Red-winged Blackbird have been found farther north than expected. What we don’t know is how much of this represents northward expansion or just lack of previous data in remote areas.

A suite of species normally associated with deciduous woods or mixed forest along the aspen parkland to southern boreal transition zone such as Eastern Bluebird, American Woodcock, Eastern Whip-poor-will, and Black-and-white Warbler (photos below) have also been found farther north than is indicted in guidebooks. One possible explanation may be related to habitat change associated with human land clearance in the boreal that has enabled disturbance adapted deciduous trees (especially poplar family members such as Trembling Aspen) to colonise areas following human disturbance, resulting in movement corridors for deciduous forest species. In other areas, however, we have found these species in the north in relatively undisturbed areas such as Black-and-White Warblers along the God’s River and even as far north as York Factory! 

The atlas has documented a better picture of both Northern Parula and Pine Warbler (photos below) which are typically thought of as occurring only in extreme southeastern Manitoba but which we now know have small breeding populations in the Interlake region.

Some boreal forest birds also seem to be moving north including Winter Wren and Brown Creeper. Both of these species have now been recorded several times in the Churchill area (well north of typically drawn ranges).

The atlas is not just finding northern movements however. Some species such as Bonaparte's Gull have been documented farther south than previously thought. This is a juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull shown here. Other species such as Tundra Swan, Northern Shrike and Pine Grosbeak have also been recorded south of their typical ranges.

The atlas is also gathering a lot of much needed data on species that are poorly known or for which there is anecdotal evidence of decline. For example, Smith’s Longspur, Lapland Longspur and Harris's Sparrow (photos below) have all become much more difficult to find in the Churchill area in recent years. Nonetheless, the atlas has been documenting these species in reasonable numbers elsewhere in the north. The last photo in the series of four below shows a rarely encountered Harris’s Sparrow nest.

The atlas is procuring fantastic documentation on Species At Risk in our province and working hard to augment the Manitoba Conservation data Centre. This juvenile Rusty Blackbird (just out of the nest) is one example of many Species At Risk records the atlas has documented to date. Rusty Blackbird is listed as Special Concern. 

In some cases, we have special projects occurring within the larger atlas framework. This includes the ongoing Bird Studies Canada Golden-winged Warbler Project I began in 2008 thanks to the Walter Siemens Memorial Fund. Golden-winged Warbler (photo below) is listed as Threatened. Other researchers also share distributional and nesting data with the atlas.

And then of course there are the hundreds of personal stories that make the atlas what it is. You can read about many of these stories in the various issues of the atlas newsletter at: I will leave you with one of my favourite magic moments from atlassing in northern Manitoba – this young Boreal Owl that I found (along with other family members) near Shamattawa, Manitoba.

To learn more about the atlas, you can contact me by email at: cartuso AT birdscanada DOT org or phone 1-800-214-6497 and ask for the Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas.  Thank you!


  1. Estupendas capturas,algunas especies las podemos ver por donde yo vivo.Saludos

  2. Gracias Isidro!Si, tenemos algo en comĂșn!

  3. This is some of beautiful collections of birds pics i ever seen.Thanks for sharing about it.
    Conservation Consultant


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