Our research is driven by a seminal paper by Rosenberg et al in 2019 showing a loss of 3 billion birds in North America from 1970 to 2017. Facing this daunting figure, we wondered how we might use science to help understand and perhaps even reverse this trend in our local communities.
In the Puget Sound, residential home prices are skyrocketing. Sound Transit is expanding, opening up more distant locations for commuters. New residential and commercial developments have become increasingly common. Seattle and its surrounding urban, suburban, and rural communities are wrestling with how to balance the demands and impacts of their expanding populations with the management and maintenance of parks and green spaces that characterize the region.
It is critical for managers to leverage evidence-based, integrative approaches to monitor and mitigate anthropogenic impacts to ensure the health and well-being of the people and wildlife in these areas. This project, in partnership with the not-for-profit Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation (LFPSF), lays the foundation for longitudinal research examining how habitat characteristics and urbanization interact to impact avian biodiversity and behavior in parks in the Puget Sound region, with a specific emphasis on Lake Forest Park, WA, a city with a rich history of environmental stewardship.
Point Counts & Behavioral Monitoring
In order to determine which species use each surveyed park and green space, we conduct quarterly 10-minute point count surveys. Two observers stand back-to-back and count every bird heard or seen within a 50m-radius cylinder. In addition to noting which species we see and hear, we write down whether each identified bird is within or just outside of the park or green space, the type of habitat each bird is observed in, and any behaviors we observe. At the end of each survey, observers compare notes and condense their observations into a single survey, which we enter into our growing database. We are constantly updating our habitat and behavior codes to fully encompass our observations.
We conduct many of our surveys in Lake Forest Park, WA, a suburban community with a growing population of over 13,000, composed of mostly single family homes, small businesses, and a small mall called the Town Center. Lake Forest Park has a impressive history of environmental stewardship, dating back to its founding in 1912. You can watch a short video about the history of Lake Forest Park here (starting at ~8:15). In addition to Lake Forest Park, we conduct surveys in north Seattle, Snoqualmie Ridge, Duvall, Monroe, Carnation, and Fall City. For more information about the specific parks where we conduct our surveys, and which bird species we’ve seen at each location, visit our Parks Page.
Using our survey data, we can calculate each park’s species richness - the total number of observed species, abundance - the total number of individuals observed in each species, and species evenness - the relative distribution of different species. We need all of these measurements to accurately gauge a park’s avian biodiversity.
Using aerial photographs and ground truthing, we have also characterized habitat differences within and on the edges of each park. Birds don't recognize park boundaries, so understanding the composition of habitat within and just outside each location is critical to fully understanding out data.
Based on a protocol from Seress et al. 2014, we use aerial photographs to assess building, vegetation, pavement, and water cover in 500 m2 grids covering our surveyed parks and green spaces. From these values, we utilize principal component analysis to create a singular urbanization score for each park. We are interested in how changing urbanization over multiple years may correlate with changing bird species compositions and behaviors.