Mapping and Monitoring Avian Resources: Project Archive

Jan 2018 | Archived Projects, Data and Monitoring, Habitat and Coastal, Library

This project has ended. Archived project materials are available below.

Project Overview

Wildlife agencies often lack adequate knowledge of pelagic (open water) bird migration patterns and non-breeding habitat use in the Great Lakes and may thus be less equipped to recommend measures to avoid and minimize development impacts and habitat loss. This project is the first step in answering the question: how do birds use near-shore and offshore areas of the Great Lakes during the non-breeding season, and how can this information be used to evaluate the potential impact of resource management decisions?

For two annual cycles (2012-2014) the Great Lakes Commission coordinated aerial pelagic bird surveys in selected offshore areas of the Great Lakes. In the third phase, a team of researchers is explored modeling methods to help generate meaningful data and information for nearshore spatial planning, conservation activities, and wildlife management.

The main objective was to develop predictive models of water bird distributions and densities across the Great Lakes to support decision-making and conservation planning through identification of “hotspot” and “coldspot” locations, identification of relationships between water bird occurrences, abundances, and relevant environmental covariates, and standardization of data across differing sampling protocols.

In a parallel and complementary activity, this project establishes a foundational data management system and fosters a community of researchers that contribute data to the system beyond the life of the project. Tools for data analysis and visualization are available through the Midwest Avian Data Center that provides the platform to manage scientific data, foster meaningful data visualizations, and coordinate partnerships around conservation questions. By making the data discoverable, users can navigate through the database and visualize the information through different outputs.

The data collected, analyzed and modeled through this project are a significant contribution to conservation planning, such as guiding habitat restoration and acquisition activities, permitting offshore wind and other human activities, as well as understanding impacts of invasive species. Building on the effort of the first two phases, phase three develops a data management system and predictive models to better serve and inform conservation and planning efforts through the collaborative work with natural resource managers and other stakeholders.


How do birds use near-shore and open water areas of the Great Lakes, and how can this information be used to inform conservation and natural resource management decisions, such as prioritizing areas for protection/restoration, evaluating the potential impact of offshore wind energy projects, and targeting conservation within the context of the full annual cycle?

In the effort to answer this question, the project team executed a work plan that was designed to achieve the following five objectives:

  • Build a community of Great Lakes avian researchers under the Midwest Coordinated Bird Monitoring Partnership to share data and information, form data sharing agreements where appropriate, identify information gaps and priorities, collaborate on future projects, and build upon the collective knowledge of bird use of the Great Lakes.
  • Inform Great Lakes conservation and management decisions by engaging natural resource and wildlife managers and subject experts in detailing needs for summarizing and using survey data within relevant decision frameworks.
  • Develop and promote the use of the Midwest Avian Data Center to manage, share, analyze, and distribute results from survey data and data collected by other research projects.
  • Develop predictive models of waterbird distributions and densities across the Great Lakes, in order to support decision making and conservation planning.
  • Incorporate data and project results into briefing reports, the Midwest Avian Data Center, and other relevant decision-making and conservation planning tools and documents.

1. Regional Coordination

The GLC and the USFWS lead a Regional Project Team that comprises subcontractors from Phase 1 and 2, the modeling team (Michigan State University, Biodiversity Research Institute, University of Washington), and staff from Point Blue Conservation Science.

2. Data Management

Working with the Regional Project Team, Point Blue Conservation Science is developing a data management application that facilitates the bulk upload of bird observation data. This data management application will provide project partners with a fully networked and properly described version of their data, means to manage their data online, data security and proper curation, and online tools to generate reports and data visualizations based on feedback from natural resource and wildlife managers and other stakeholders.

3. Data Integration

The data collected in Phases 1 and 2 has been bulk-uploaded to the Midwest Avian Data Center. Point Blue Conservation Science is developing an online tool to facilitate the creation of reports and basic data visualizations. Data will be compiled into the standardized and spatially explicit GIS data format developed for Phase 3 of this study, and integrated with Phase 1-2 survey data to create the largest ever dataset for pelagic waterbird distributions in the Great Lakes.

4. Develop Predictive Models

Model development teams from The University of Washington and Michigan State University are engaged in complementary efforts to use the field data collected in previous phases with data retrieved from publicly available geodatabases such as the National Geophysical Data Center and the Great Lakes Information Network to build predictive maps of the seasonal distribution and relative abundance of avian resources, and to create tools to aid in the calculation and mapping of hotspot probabilities.

Species counts were standardized by using the total transect length to normalize survey effort across datasets. Species and species groups to target for the model were chosen based on conservation priorities for each of the subcontractors, data availability, and species distribution. The modeling team and the Regional Project Team worked together to determine the optimal spatial scale of the analysis that reflects the spacing between survey transects, the link to environmental covariates, and the resolution needed to make conservation and management decisions. Definitions of hotspots were determined using four different modeling approaches: Spatial approaches (kernel density estimation, Getis-Ord Gi* hotspot analysis) and Non-spatial parametric approaches (gamma distribution and lognormal distribution both conditional on presence of the species/group).

5. Engage Natural Resource and Wildlife Managers to Visualize Data Products

Organized by the Great Lakes Commission, the Informing Great Lakes Open Water Bird Management Workshop took place on March 22-23, 2016, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over thirty stakeholders, including avian researchers, federal and state resource managers and conservationists, met to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Identify management needs for which data can inform decision-making.
  2. Work with conservation managers and the regional project team to determine the best ways to apply the project’s information to support their management activities.
  3. Define user interface options for the analysis tools developed by the project that will be integrated into the Midwest Avian Data Center website.
  4. Gauge the need for continued data collection, monitoring and review of impacts of management actions.

The main purpose of the workshop was to explore how the data collected from bird surveys that took place between September 2012 and June 2014 could be used to address conservation and management needs. This was done in part through breakout sessions that challenged small groups to consider how to apply the data to mock management scenarios. Case studies discussed were related to Long-tailed duck habitat restoration, offshore wind siting, and waterfowl monitoring.

Additionally, an update from the Monitoring and Mapping of Avian Resources over the Great Lakes project team was presented to workshop participants, with presentation from bird surveyors, data management team and the modeling team. Participants also had the opportunity to hear about other related research projects in the Great Lakes basin, including water bird and waterfowl monitoring on the Canadian Great Lakes, and the Great Lakes Migratory Bird Stopover Habitat Portal.

6. Results Dissemination

Project results are made available to other researches and the public in several locations and formats including this website, various presentations at professional conferences, and the distribution of other varied outreach materials.

  • This website is updated regularly to track the project’s progress and introduce new results and deliverables, including final reports and predictive models.
  • A project factsheet will be published on this website in May 2017.
  • In December of 2016, a poster for the project was presented at the Restore America’s Estuaries / The Coastal Society joint conference that was held in New Orleans, LA. The conference program booklet can be downloaded at: Restore America’s Estuaries 8th National Summit on Coastal and Estuarine Restoration and 25th Biennial Meeting of The Coastal Society
  • The GLC is in the process of putting together a series of Power Point slides describing the project. These slides will be shared with the Regional Project Team who will be encouraged to use them to further distribute the project results. The slides will also be posted on this website as a PDF in summer 2017.
Past Phases

The Great Lakes Commission coordinated 5 research entities to conduct aerial surveys of selected areas of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Erie over the course of two years during the non-breeding season (fall, winter and spring). These research entities included Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Michigan Natural Features Institute (MNFI), United States Geological Survey (USGS), and Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory (WGLBBO) Over 1.8 million individual birds were observed during both phases (2012-2014), representing at least 53 different species and at least 40 pelagic waterbird species. Surveys in Phase 2 observed fewer individuals than Phase 1, perhaps in part due to the high levels of ice coverage across the Great Lakes during the Phase 2 project period. Five waterbird species observed comprised over 81 percent of all observations (Table 1). The most common single species observed across all surveys, the Canvasback, represented 37 percent of all birds observed. Over twice the number of birds were observed per km of transect in Lake St. Clair (9 birds/ km) than in the other three surveyed water bodies (Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron; Table 2). Lake Erie also had relatively high effort-corrected counts during Phase 2 surveys (4.2 birds/km). At least 17 species of birds that are protected by state or federal law in the Great Lakes region were observed during surveys. Though surveys were designed primarily for waterbirds, other species, such as Bald Eagles, were also incidentally observed. Several protected species are listed in Table 3. Other observed species with protections from one or more Great Lakes states and provinces included the American Black Duck, Common Gallinule, Gadwall, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Redhead, Red-necked Grebe and Ruddy Duck.

Table 1. Most commonly observed species during surveys (2012-2014). Counts include all data and survey locations. Column on the far right is average the number of individuals observed per linear km of survey.

Common Name Count % of all Obs. Obs./km
Canvasback 684,900 37.4 5.8
Unidentified Scaup 442,002 24.2 3.8
Redhead 183,036 10.0 1.6
Unidentified dabbling duck 105,472 5.8 0.9
Long-tailed Duck 77,984 4.3 0.7

Table 2. Total counts of waterbirds by lake in surveys (2012-2014). Column on the far right is the number of individuals observed per linear km of transect flown.

Study Area Count Observations Per km Transect Surveyed
Lake St. Clair 1,401,982 9.0
Lake Erie 276,392 4.2
Lake Michigan 141,589 1.1
Lake Huron 9,545 0.3

Table 3. Protected species observed during surveys (2012-2014). Only species protected in at least two states or provinces in the Great Lakes region are listed.

Common Name Count Protection Status
Common Loon 1,209 Listed as threatened in Michigan and of special concern in New York
Bald Eagle 542 Protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and under several state endangered and threatened species listings
Horned Grebe 368 Endangered in Minnesota; Special Concern in Ontario
Common Tern 154 Listed as threatened or endangered by the majority of states in the Great Lakes region
Sandhill Crane 18 Endangered in Ohio; Special Concern in Indiana
Great Egret 14 Endangered in Pennsylvania; Special Concern in New York, Indiana and Ohio
Caspian Tern 6 Listed as endangered in Wisconsin and threatened in Michigan
Nothern Harrier 4 Endangered in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; Threatened in New York and Pennsylvania
American White Pelican 3 Species of special concern in Minnesota and threatened in Ontario.
Past Events

Webinar: Monitoring and Mapping Great Lakes Waterbirds to Support Management – November 15, 2017

The “Mapping and Monitoring Avian Resources in the Great Lakes to Support Management” project was designed to understand how birds use the shoreline and offshore areas of the Great Lakes, and how can this information be used to evaluate the potential impact of proposed offshore wind projects and other resource management issues. Through the development of predictive models, this project will create a more comprehensive regional picture of offshore bird concentrations that will assist decision-makers in identifying suitable areas for both proposed offshore wind developments and general conservation planning, relative to bird habitat and use patterns.

Michele Leduc-Lapierre, Great Lakes Commission
Leo Salas, Point Blue Conservation Science
Allison Sussman, Michigan State University
Evan Adams, Biodiversity Research Institute

Informing Great Lakes Open Water Bird Management Workshop – March 22-23, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Workshop Objectives

  • Identify management needs for which these data can inform decision making.
  • Innovate with conservation managers and the regional project team the best ways to apply the project’s information to support their management activities.
  • Define user interface options for the analysis tools developed by the project that will be integrated into the Midwest Avian Data Center website.
  • Gauge the need for continued data collection, monitoring and review of impacts of management actions.


Initial Results on Open Water Bird Abundance over the Great Lakes (2012-2014 Aerial Surveys):

Great Lakes Research Highlights:

Midwest Avian Data Center – Developing a Data Management System for Great Lakes Researchers:

Open Water Bird Models to Inform Natural Resource/Wildlife Management Decisions:

Great Lakes Pelagic Bird Stakeholder Engagement Workshop – May 29-50, 2014 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Project Team Members


Pelagic Bird Survey Partners

Kevin P. Kenow
U. S. Geological Survey Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
2630 Fanta Reed Road
La Crosse, Wisconsin 54603
P: 608-781-6278 F: 608-783-6066
E: [email protected]

David R. Luukkonen, Ph.D.
Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources
Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center
8562 E. Stoll Rd. East Lansing, MI 48823
P: 517-641-4903, ext. 250 F: 517-641-6022
E: [email protected]

Michael J. Monfils
Michigan Natural Features Inventory
Michigan State University Extension
P.O. Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909-7944
P: 517-241-2027
E: [email protected]

William P. Mueller
Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory
1242 S. 45th St. Milwaukee, WI 53214
P: 414-698-9108
E: [email protected]

Kate Williams
Biodiversity Research Institute
276 Canco Rd., Portland, Maine 04103
P: 207-839-7600 x108
E: [email protected]


Bird Observation Data Partners

Katie Koch
Midwest Coordinated Bird Monitoring Partnership
US Fish and Wildlife Service
3090 Wright St.
Marquette, MI 49855
P: 906- 226-1249
F: 906-226-3632
E: [email protected]

Leo Salas, Ph.D.
Climate Change & Informatics Director
PRBO Conservation Science
3820 Cypress Drive, Suite 11, Petaluma, CA 94954
P:707-781-2555 ext. 340
E: [email protected]

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Keith Lott
Ohio Ecological Services Field Office
4625 Morse Rd., Suite 104
Columbus, OH 43230
P: 614-416-8993 ext. 31
F: 614 416-8994
E: [email protected]

Great Lakes Commission

Victoria Pebbles
Michèle Leduc-Lapierre