In North America and Europe, breeding bird surveys have played a huge role in estimating the population sizes and distributions of local avifauna. In providing a fairly accurate picture of the numbers and types of birds that occur in a given area, these surveys have been of tremendous importance for conservation and protection of bird species. Over time, they also show where, and the extent to which, bird populations change. That said, I realize that this is old news for most birders in North America and Europe. In fact, there’s a good chance that many people reading this have helped to generate data as a part of breeding bird surveys because most of these bird counts are carried out by citizen scientists.
Trained biologists and ornithologists also carry out many of these counts but birdwatchers from other walks of life form the backbone of breeding bird surveys. I had often wondered if the same sort of annual counting happened in Costa Rica but I haven’t found any information to indicate that was the case. Although bird counts at certain sites and for certain groups of birds (such as waterfowl and waders) are undertaken by both the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica and the Union de Ornitologos de Costa Rica, there didn’t appear to be anything akin to the large scale citizen science breeding bird surveys that happen in other parts of the world. Christmas counts are done at many sites and are certainly important but the country was lacking surveys done on a much broader scale. From what I have seen, the closest thing to date that has generated data about bird populations in Costa Rica has been eBird. This most wonderful of interactive websites already provides valuable information on bird sightings in Costa Rica but has yet to be fully adopted by the local birding community. Since much of the data in eBird is added by people who visit the country for a birding tour, the sites that receive the most attention are those that already happen to be heavily visited and well known.
Hopefully, more local birders will use eBird but in the meantime, the Asociacion Ornitologia de Costa Rica (AOCR) has started up a citizen science project aimed at counting and assessing populations of resident species. In other words, Costa Rica finally has a breeding bird survey project! Although several species of birds in Costa Rica nest at various times of the year, a large percentage breed at the start of the wet season. For this reason, the counting period runs from May 15th to June 30th and follows protocols similar to other breeding bird surveys. Spearheaded by bird list coordinator Gerardo Obando, this projec encourages birdwatchers who reside in Costa Rica to get out there and do point counts in their gardens as well as along any number of routes. Participants set up their counting areas with GPS coordinates and once established, each of these is shown on a Google map to avoid overlap with other counts.
Hopefully, enough people will get involved to aid in providing a more accurate assessment of the Costa Rican avifauna. I already have a few routes in mind and will be blogging about my count experiences in June.
It will be interesting to see how many Black-capped Flycatchers turn up at high elevation sites,
if anyone does counts where Volcano Juncos live,
and how many thousands of Barred Antshrikes get reported!