For Bird Watchers, UF Launches Internet Bird Monitoring Program

Tom Nordlie (352) 392-1773 x 277

Mark Hostetler, (352) 846-0643
John Brenneman (863) 533-0765
Mark Kraus (305) 371-6399

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Binoculars, a notebook, a pen – no self-respecting bird watcher would be without them. Now birding enthusiasts can add another tool to their bag: the Internet.

Launched last month, the Florida Bird Monitoring Program allows residents statewide to contribute information to a Web site that stores bird count results, said Mark Hostetler, a wildlife specialist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who designed the program.

“The main idea is to give people a tool to explore their own environment,” Hostetler said. “Because the Web site has a centralized database, it allows others to view the information we collect about bird species and when and where they’re seen.”

He said the program can be used by schools, private and public agencies, casual birdwatchers and others who want to compare bird populations in different areas, or look for changes over time.

“Monitoring birds over long periods can help people evaluate how local changes in landscape affect bird populations,” he said.

Before contributing information to the Web site, he said, participants must obtain a user ID and a “site code” indicating where they will observe birds. Information can be gathered using a “point count survey” made in one spot, or a “transect survey” made while traveling a specific route.

Users can review and edit their own contributions after submitting them, he said. Visitors to the Web site can access contributions from others, searching the database by location or bird species. They also can contact contributors via e-mail.

“That’s our other main goal, helping bird watchers network,” he said. “Let’s say you can’t find a particular species that lives in your area, but you notice that someone on the Web site reports it frequently. You can contact that person to find out more about the habitat conditions this bird seems to favor. This kind of information exchange promotes landscaping for wildlife in urban and rural areas.”

John Brenneman, a UF extension agent specializing in natural resources, said the program may raise public awareness about wildlife conservation.

“I live in a rural area that’s being developed,” said Brenneman, a resident of the Lakeland area. “While I won’t alter my property, I’m concerned about how surrounding development may affect local bird populations. When I submit bird counts, I can mention how habitat changes nearby may be affecting the number and species of birds I see.”

Mark Kraus, deputy state director for Audubon of Florida, said the UF program should benefit not only bird watchers, but also the birds themselves.

“Citizen-science projects of this type are extremely valuable for looking at trends,” Kraus said. “If a red flag comes up, like dramatic population changes, researchers can be notified so the problem can be addressed.”

The National Audubon Society supports a bird count Web site maintained by Cornell University’s ornithology laboratory, and sponsors an annual Christmas bird count that is the world’s largest and oldest citizen-science project.

“We’re pleased to see bird watching enter the computer age,” Kraus said. “The more information that’s available, the better people can appreciate these unique creatures.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Florida Bird Monitoring Program Web Site is located at

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Posted: July 11, 2001

Category: UF/IFAS

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