Georgia Partners in Flight


About

Partners in Flight is an international bird conservation effort. Initiated in 1990 in response to declines in numerous species of Neotropical migratory birds, PIF seeks to reverse these declines and ensure healthy populations of songbirds and other birds for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Many familiar songbirds such as warblers, vireos, orioles and tanagers are among those referred to as Neotropical migrants. These birds breed in North America and migrate to Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean to spend the winter. Loss of habitat needed for wintering, breeding and as stopovers during migration has caused significant declines in numerous species of our favorite and most colorful songsters.

In Georgia, over 90 species of Neotropical migrants depend on the forests, thickets and fields of our state as areas to rest and refuel during their long migrations. Many—54 species—also nest and raise their young in our habitats. Although declining, most of these birds are still relatively common, and Georgia Partners in Flight seeks to address and meet the needs of these and other land birds through effective partnerships with state and federal agencies, private conservation and education organizations, corporations, colleges and universities, and concerned citizens and bird enthusiasts.

What You Can Do To Benefit Birds

  • Join Partners in Flight! You can participate in working groups dealing with Outreach & Education, Management, Monitoring, or Research
  • Make your yard a Backyard Wildlife Habitat...and spread the word to your neighbors!
    • Plant a variety of native trees, shrubs, and flowers to provide food and cover for birds
    • Provide a clean, reliable source of water
    • Keep your cat indoors and reduce the reflection of large windows to reduce bird deaths in your yard
    • Provide a home for chimney swifts, build a Chimney Swift Tower; don't cap your chimney
    • If you must use chemical pesticides in your yard, be careful. Birds can be killed by both direct and indirect exposure
    • Drink shade grown coffee to help support habitats for birds on the wintering grounds
  • Support local and national conservation organizations
  • Volunteer at a National Wildlife Refuge, National Forest, Wildlife Management Area, or Bird Conservation Area
  • Be a citizen scientist. Participate in Breeding Bird Surveys, Christmas Counts, Bunting Watch, etc.
  • Buy a Federal Waterfowl Stamp. Funds are used to purchase National Wildlife Refuges that provide bird habitat
  • Funding for bird conservation is critically needed
  • Contribute to the Tax Check-off, purchase a Nongame Wildlife License Plate for your vehicle depicting a bald eagle and American flag, and support Teaming with Wildlife
  • Share your Passion for Birds
  • Organize or join local bird walks, clubs, or meetings
  • Educate yourself and become active in your community's planning, development, and zoning

For more information, call (478) 994-1438.


Whimbrel Tracking

In May 2010, as part of a long-term study of whimbrel spring staging ecology in Georgia, Nongame Conservation Section staff partnered with colleagues at the Center for Conservation Biology (CCB) at the College of William and Mary to fit two northbound Georgia whimbrels with solar-powered satellite transmitters.

CCB staff, along with the Virginia chapter of The Nature Conservancy Coastal Reserve staff, have been tagging Virginia birds for three years.  Both the Virginia and Georgia chapters of The Nature Conservancy, as well as the Nongame Conservation Section's friends group, The Environmental Resources Network (T.E.R.N.), have been instrumental in funding these projects.

Whimbrels coming from wintering grounds on the coast of South America spend 6–8 weeks feeding in the marshes of mid- and southeastern Atlantic states. These large-bodied shorebirds put on significant weight during these weeks by eating tremendous numbers of fiddler crabs. Like red knots gorging on horseshoe crab eggs, thin whimbrels touching down in April begin to resemble footballs before leaving in late May. The energy they store in fat and muscle will carry them far.

This species represents many other migrant shorebirds that depend entirely on the thin margin of coastal wetland habitats that border the Atlantic states as they prepare to launch into the Arctic to establish territories and nest. Protecting and maintaining the integrity and health of our coastal lands through risk-averse management and broad conservation efforts has benefits locally and to life well beyond our borders.

Thanks to the efforts by CCB staff and Michael Coyne at SEATURTLE.ORG, maps of the Georgia whimbrels are now available to the public, along with maps of the Virginia birds. Post-nesting migration will soon bring these birds south again. To see the maps with current locations visit: 

  1. Wildlife Tracking
  2. Click on the drop down menu "Animals."
  3. Then "birds."
  4. Then "Whimbrel" near the bottom.
  5. Click on the names of the whimbrels to see their maps. The Georgia birds are Ann (Ossabaw Island, May 19) and Chinquapin (Altamaha River, May 22). For two Virgina birds that have reshuffled conventional shorebird wisdom concerning whimbrel migration, check out Winnie and Hope.

Share the Beach

Least tern feeding chick

Taking the family to a Georgia beach? Please be ready to share it with families of a different feather—beach-nesting birds.

Some coastal areas popular in late spring and early summer double as important nesting habitat for protected birds such as American oystercatchers, WilsonLeast tern chicks on beach’s plovers and least terns. Examples include Little Tybee Island, Pelican Spit off Sea Island, Cumberland Island and the southern end of Jekyll Island.

Beach-nesting birds nest above the high-tide line on wide, terraced beach flats or in the edge of dunes. In Georgia, the birds lay eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand from April through July. After hatching, chicks hide on the beach or in the grass. Chicks and eggs can be difficult to see. Disturbance by humans or pets can cause adult birds to abandon nests and chicks, exposing them to extreme heat and predators.

Migrating seabirds and shorebirds face similar threats. Georgia beaches provide vital stopover sites for species such as red knots. Red knots flushed from feeding might not gain the weight needed to survive their more than 9,000-mile migration from the Arctic to South America.

What You Can Do

When visiting a Georgia beach:Collage of beach-nesting birds, nests and chicks

  • Stay in high-traffic areas; birds are less likely to nest where crowds gather.
  • Walk below the high-tide line or on wet-sand beaches.
  • Avoid posted nesting sites.
  • Observe beach birds only from a distance. Back away from any nesting birds you accidentally disturb (Adults frightened from a nest will often call loudly and exhibit distraction displays, such as dragging one wing as if it’s broken).
  • Leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash when visiting a beach where they’re allowed (Owners who let their dogs chase shorebirds can be fined for harassing federally protected species).
  • Keep house cats indoors, and don’t feed feral cats.

Guide to Beach-Nesting Birds

Enjoy this video about Georgia's coastal birds. Below are snapshots of adults, eggs and chicks of four protected species, from left, American oystercatcher, Wilson’s plover, least tern and black skimmer.


Breeding Bird Atlas

Breeding bird atlases are projects designed to map the distribution of breeding birds within a geographic region. In North America, this region is usually a state or province. Maps for each species that breeds in the region are generated using data collected by volunteer surveyors and conservation organizations and agencies. The maps, along with other information on each species, is compiled in a book at the end of the project. The books are then available for purchase.

The Georgia Breeding Bird Atlas was initiated in 1994 by the Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division. This multi-year statewide project will fill large gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the natural history and distribution of the bird species breeding within the state. This effort will provide a permanent record of the birds in the state at the end of the 20th century and will provide the first complete, detailed picture of breeding bird distribution in the state and provide a sound baseline from which future changes in bird distribution can be measured.

This baseline information will be used by the Department of Natural Resources, other governmental agencies, land use planners, and organizations to assist in the conservation of birds throughout Georgia.

Breeding Bird Atlas Objectives

  • Surveying the state of Georgia systematically for evidence of breeding during the appropriate seasons for all bird species using survey techniques that can be duplicated in the future
  • Organizing data from breeding observations into a series of maps that show the breeding occurrence and distribution of each species within the state
  • Classifying and mapping the breeding evidence for each species using a set of codes based upon observable criteria for territorial, breeding, nesting, and rearing behaviors
  • Learning more about the distribution and nesting chronology of Georgia's breeding bids
  • Providing accurate information on the nesting occurrences, habitats, and status of rare bird species so that their conservation needs can be addressed adequately in future land-use decisions
  • Identifying unique habitats or assemblages of bird species that may warrant focused conservation efforts and evaluate the relative ability of existing managed areas to maintain biological diversity and integrity
  • Providing data to serve as a baseline against which future changes in the status of breeding birds in Georgia can be measured
  • Introducing Georgia's birders to a new and exciting way of birding, which at the same time contributes valuable information to the state's largest-ever ornithological endeavor

To volunteer for Georgia's Breeding Bird Atlas, please call (478)994-1438.


Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Conservation in Georgia

The only woodpecker to excavate its home in living pine trees, the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) (Picoides borealis) was a common resident of mature southeastern U.S. pine forests at one time. RCWs require large acreages of open, mature, frequently burned pine stands for foraging and the creation of nest cavities. However, populations of this non-migratory species have drastically declined, and the bird is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because most of its required habitat has been altered through clearing, urbanization, incompatible forestry practices, and lack of periodic fire to maintain pine stands in an open condition.

Most remaining RCWs exist on public lands such as national forests, national wildlife refuges, and military installations where large tracts of woodland habitat have been maintained in suitable condition. Many of these public land populations are under intensive management in an attempt to increase RCW numbers and recover the species from its endangered status. In Georgia, the largest public land populations are found at Fort Stewart, Fort Benning, Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Oconee National Forest, and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. State-owned properties with RCWs include Silver Lake WMA and Moody Forest WMA.

Some RCWs also remain on private land in Georgia. The Red Hills region of Thomas and Grady counties supports the largest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers on private lands. Suitable habitat in the Red Hills has been maintained incidentally on adjacent large tracts of private land managed primarily for bobwhite quail. Other RCWs on private lands, however, belong to small, isolated populations on relict fragments of habitat. These birds are continuing to disappear without contributing to the future of the species because of ongoing loss and fragmentation of habitat, lack of beneficial management, and the negative effects of demographic isolation.

Private landowners are not required to contribute toward species recovery, only to avoid "take" as defined by the ESA. Avoidance of take necessitates that landowners do not disturb the cluster of cavity trees used by a family group of RCWs, and that they maintain sufficient nearby pine forest foraging habitat. Sufficient foraging habitat has been defined as a minimum of 3000 square feet basal area of pines at least 10 inches in diameter nearby and contiguous to the cavity trees. This can be somewhat expensive in lost income opportunity because landowners might have to alter intended management activities, such as timber harvest or clearing, that would result in take through loss of habitat.

In 1999, the Georgia DNR developed the nation’s first statewide red-cockaded woodpecker Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to provide management options for private landowners. The plan includes options for mitigated incidental take and for Safe Harbor. Qualifying landowners with RCWs on small, isolated properties can have RCW management responsibilities removed from their property once replacement groups of RCWs have been created or equivalent additional habitat has been committed to permanent management at another location where the birds can contribute to a recovery or support population. All impacted RCWs will be translocated before habitat can be rendered unsuitable.

A more commonly used program is Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor targets landowners primarily in southwest Georgia, where plantations managed for the northern bobwhite also support a significant population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Safe Harbor involves a landowner’s commitment to beneficially manage habitat for the site’s “baseline” number of woodpecker family groups, or those on the site when the agreement is made. A family group refers to red-cockaded woodpeckers occupying a cluster of cavity trees. In exchange for maintenance of this baseline number of family groups, the landowner’s responsibility does not increase if the woodpecker population increases. Safe harbor with a baseline of zero can be used to protect landowners who have no RCWs on their land, but have a realistic probability of receiving dispersing birds from nearby occupied RCW habitat.

In Georgia, 176,593 acres are enrolled in Safe Harbor management agreements covering 105 baseline groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers and supporting 38 surplus groups, or additions to those woodpecker populations. Most of these properties are in the Red Hills region near Thomasville. Since the inception of Safe Harbor in 2000, this population has stabilized at about 180 groups.

For more information on the Red-cockaded Woodpecker conservation in Georgia, call: (478) 299-5059

Bird Collision Research in Georgia

It has long been known that birds collide with man-made structures (buildings, communication towers and power lines), particularly during migration seasons and severe weather. Some estimates suggest that between 700 million and 1 billion birds are killed annually by these collisions. Research has been carried out in a number of cities throughout the nation to assess the extent of bird collisions with buildings in urban areas, and to discover possible ways to decrease the impact of these structures.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division researched this issue in Atlanta with Lee Sexton, a graduate student from the University of Glamorgan (United Kingdom). This was the first study of its scale conducted in Atlanta. Lee worked with eight volunteers and is monitoring more than 40 buildings in Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and along the Chattahoochee River. The study continued through early October 2005.

For more information on bird collisions and how you can help make a difference, download the attached fact sheets and visit the following websites:

Fact Sheets

Websites

American Bird Conservancy Wind Energy Policy: www.abcbirds.org
Avian Power Line Interaction Committee: www.aplic.org
Birds & Buildings: www.birdsandbuildings.org/index1024.html
Fatal Light Awareness Program: www.flap.org
National Wind Coordinating Committee: www.nationalwind.org
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/


Whooping Crane Sightings

Report sightings of whooping cranes. Migration is in full swing in early fall, during October and November. The birds return north in the spring. Learn more about the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership logo


Loggerhead Shrike Survey

Also known as Butcherbirds for their habit of impaling their prey, loggerhead shrikes are present year round throughout Georgia and surrounding states. While some of these birds breed locally, many migrate north to nest. Both local and migratory populations are declining quickly (4.7% annual decline in the Eastern U.S.) and many migrant populations are listed as threatened or endangered. Georgia's shrikes are faring poorly as well (see BBS trends below), however we still have a good opportunity to conserve this species in much of the southeast if we can better understand the reasons for population declines.

Shrikes are usually found in old field/pasture habitats often hunting along roadsides, though they also use mature longleaf pine savanna. Reasons for their decline are nebulous, but may be tied to changes in land use, pesticides, car strikes (they often fly low across roads) or high nest predation rates (due to their habitat of nesting in linear fencerows). Most puzzling is an apparent abundance of seemingly unoccupied suitable habitat. This study is designed to get at some of these questions by more precisely identifying their habitat needs.

Tips on Identification

Make sure you get the right guy. Beginners can mistake mockingbirds for shrikes. If in doubt, make sure you get a good look at the bird before proceeding. If there is any doubt about the birds identity don't fill out a datasheet. It is better to miss a few records than pollute the dataset with mistaken identities.

  • Shrikes are chunky birds with heavy bills and heads, a black mask and no neck.
  • Shrikes frequently perch in open agricultural areas most often on power lines and fences But careful, so do mockingbirds. With a little practice you can pick them out when driving by.
  • Shrikes typically fly low and fast. Their wing beats are shallow and very fast for a bird of their size.
  • Both birds have a pattern of white in their wings.
Loggerhead Shrike vs. Mockingbird Comparison
Image Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Please help biologists learn more about Loggerhead Shrike populations throughout the Southeast by filling out the Loggerhead Shrike Survey Form whenever a shrike is sighted.

Mail the completed form to:

Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Wildlife Resource Division
116 Rum Creek Drive
Forsyth, GA 31029

For more information, contact Nathan Klaus: Nathan.Klaus@dnr.ga.gov.

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