Monday, August 2, 2010

OPS 1-4: The North American Bird Phenology Program: An 90-year legacy dataset for tracking the timing of bird migrations

Jessica Zelt, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Samuel Droege, USGS.


The North American Bird Phenology Program, part of the USA-National Phenology Network, was a network of volunteer observers who recorded information on first arrival dates, maximum abundance, and departure dates of migratory birds across the North America.  Active between 1880 and 1970, the program was coordinated by the Federal government and sponsored by the American Ornithologists' Union.  It exists now as a historic collection of six million migration card observations, illuminating almost a century of migration patterns and population status of birds.  Today, in an innovative project to curate the data and make them publically available, the records are being scanned and placed on the internet, where volunteers worldwide transcribe these records and add them into a database for analysis. 


In the program’s second year, 600,000 cards have been scanned, and with over 1,700 participants, 228,000 records transcribed. This program is currently being used as a template for bringing other legacy datasets back to life with the help of citizen scientists around the world. We are also beginning to analyze the data set and here we describe an analysis of changes in arrival dates of Barn Swallows across the United States.