Forest Bird Monitoring

Photo: Lana Bannow, Hey Charlie Creative

Ecosystem Conservation

The importance of monitoring bird populations for conservation efforts is multifaceted. Birds serve as critical indicators of ecosystem health. Their presence, abundance, and diversity of species provides valuable information about the overall well-being of the environment. Changes in bird populations often reflect similar changes in habitat quality, climate conditions, and the availability of resources. 

Habitat & Resources

The specific bird species living in a forest can act as an indicator of habitat quality. For example, woodpeckers often rely on snags, while birds like warblers or ovenbirds prefer dense underbrush. A high abundance of these types of species indicates favorable conditions for breeding, nesting, and, food source availability. Similarly, a decline can suggest habitat degradation. The unique habitat needs of each species contributes to the overall balanced and healthy environment of the forest.

Photo: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Climate Conditions

The behavior and presence of bird species in a forest ecosystem serve as indicators of their sensitivity to climatic variations. Observing their movements provides clear signals of environmental changes. 

Climate change is reshaping the cycles of precipitation, the frequency of wildfires, and posing threats to forest health by facilitating the spread of invasive species and infections. This alteration of natural patterns not only heightens the risk and severity of major weather events but also intricately influences the success of bird nesting, migration, and the accessibility of food sources.

In 2023, SAWIG initiated the monitoring of forest bird populations in our watershed. This initial stage of monitoring will aim to establish a baseline for future monitoring. The resulting data holds the potential to provide us with details about population dynamics, habitat preferences, and the impact of environmental changes on the diverse avian communities inhabiting our region. 

Studying Bird Populations

Acoustic Recording Units (ARU's) are non-intrusive recording units with omni-directional microphones, able to record bird calls in a variety of landscapes. These devices can perform stereo recordings during anytime of the day over extended periods, offering remarkable flexibility. Their non-intrusive design eliminates the need for human presence during recordings, minimizing disruption to birds, especially during crucial breeding seasons. The capability to schedule recordings during peak singing hours enhances the precision of these avian surveys. 

For SAWIG, these units allow staff to collect bird call data without human disturbance and easily filter the data through a program called Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope automatically identifies bird songs collected, as well as frog calls and bat echolocations in wildlife audio recordings. This program groups recordings into clusters to allow for easy identification and storage of data.

SAWIG staff installing an ARU

SAWIG staff conducting point count surveys in Fullerton's

Bird Point Count Surveys are a widely used method for assessing bird populations and biodiversity. This process involves selecting predetermined survey locations within a habitat of interest. Trained observers then visit these locations during the breeding season, typically during the early morning when bird activity is high. The observers remain stationary for a set period, often 5-10 minutes, and record all bird species seen or heard within a specified radius, usually 100 meters. The surveys are often conducted along established transects, and multiple visits are made to each location to account for variations in bird activity and ensure a more comprehensive dataset. Observers use both visual cues and bird calls to identify species.

SAWIG achieves reliable bird data by combining acoustic recording units (ARUs) for continuous monitoring with point count surveys for visual identification, ensuring comprehensive and effective biodiversity assessment within our watershed area. 


All about birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.).

Crick, J., et al. (n.d.). A forest owner’s Guide to Forestry for Michigan Birds.

Drake, A., de Zwaan, D. R., Altamirano, T. A., Wilson, S., Hick, K., Bravo, C., Ibarra, J. T., & Martin, K. (2021). Combining point counts and autonomous recording units improves avian survey efficacy across elevational gradients on two continents. Ecology and Evolution,


Wildlife Acoustics. (2023). Kaleidoscope Pro. Wildlife Acoustics.