Meet Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, the Scorekeepers of North America’s Birds

Maintaining reliable bird population data makes bird conservation more effective.

Good management of any resource, whether it is money in a bank account or wildlife populations, requires information about how much there is and whether it is increasing or decreasing. For biologists tasked with managing migratory birds, this information has not always been easily available or reliable. Enter Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, an organization that has integrated scientific monitoring of long-term bird population trends since 1988 to guide conservation action and connect people, birds and the landscapes we share.  

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’ approach is collaborative and multi-disciplinary. Scientific research and monitoring are at the core, strengthened by partnership and collaboration at all scales. They freely share the latest data on bird populations, land management and conservation practices to help advance the work of others and guide conservation on-the-ground. Meanwhile, experiential educational programs bring science to life and immerse youth and adults alike in nature to foster greater awareness of and appreciation for birds. Their private lands stewardship efforts span eight western states and northern Mexico. One example of this work has been ongoing research and habitat restoration work in the Chihuahuan grasslands. 

The acquisition of reliable, accurate data on bird populations is one of Bird Conservancy’s superpowers. Their Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program is the second largest breeding bird monitoring program in North America, stretching across private and public land in 14 states. Data from IMBCR are shared via the Rocky Mountain Avian Data Center (RMADC).   

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies also leads the curation and maintenance of the Avian Conservation Assessment Database (ACAD). This shared resource has been developed by Partners in Flight (PIF), a network of more than 150 bird conservation entities distributed across the Western Hemisphere.  In order to achieve their mission of keeping common birds common and helping species at risk, PIF recognized the importance of having an objective, standardized approach for assessing conservation need among bird species to provide coordinated guidance to agencies and organizations working at multiple scales. First created in 1992, the ACAD contains the latest, peer-reviewed data on population size, trend, distribution, and threats for each bird species in North America, including an overall biological vulnerability assessment as well as assessments at regional scales that incorporate area importance to highlight core populations. The ACAD is a go-to resource for researchers and conservationists alike and, notably, was recently used to estimate the net loss of three billion birds from North America since 1970, as published in Science. The ACAD is also used to generate lists of priority species such as the Partners in Flight Watch List, the USFWS Birds of Conservation Concern and various state lists of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Now the ACAD is being used to further address the needs of species on the brink. 

“As we face the challenge of addressing the loss of three billion birds, the ACAD is an invaluable tool for identifying which species are most at risk and what we can do to help them,” explains Dr. Brandt Ryder, chief conservation scientist at Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.  

Arvind Panjabi, avian conservation scientist at Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, has managed ACAD in collaboration with Partners in Flight since 2000. An avid field ornithologist, Arvind has studied and worked to conserve birds throughout North America and is intimately familiar with the programs, datasets and researchers that are able to help inform bird conservation. Under his leadership, the ACAD has grown from hosting information on just the 448 landbirds found in the U.S. and Canada to encompassing all 1,604 bird species regularly found in North America, from Canada all the way south to Panama, including species found in off-shore waters. He also oversees the organization’s Sustainable Grazing Network in northern Mexico, a voluntary partnership with ranchers that employs a science-based, working lands approach to conserving and enhancing wintering habitat for grassland birds such as the Chestnut-collared Longspur and Aplomado Falcon. 

As a partner on the Bird Migration Explorer, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies has helped incorporate the global population size estimate and the continental conservation status into the information that is presented for each species of migratory birds.   

“Including this information alongside our migration maps will help people learn more about the global population of the species they are looking at and whether that species is at-risk,” explains Melanie Smith, program director for the Bird Migration Explorer. 

Thanks to the deliberate and detailed efforts of Bird Conservancy of the Rockies to document what was once unknown, everyday bird lovers and conservationists alike can better understand and access the state of their favorite birds, giving a boost to efforts to protect them and the places they need, today and tomorrow.