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Black-capped chickadee with a bill deformity - photo by Wayne Hall


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The Alaska Landbird Monitoring Survey


Alaska provides breeding habitats for 135 species of landbirds, half of which breed predominantly north of the U.S.-Canada border. The road-based North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) provides some data on population trends in Alaska but most northern species are inadequately monitored because of a paucity of roads. Boreal Partners in Flight thus developed the Alaska Landbird Monitoring Survey (ALMS) to monitor breeding populations of landbirds in roadless areas in Alaska and complement data collected from the roadside BBS. The primary objectives of ALMS are to (1) monitor long-term population trends; (2) determine abundance by habitat; and (3) model distribution across Alaska. ALMS is a collaborative program whereby agencies participate by conducting standardized surveys of breeding birds and their habitats on their resource lands and contributing the data to the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center for storage and analysis. ALMS and its pilot program have recorded >100,000 observations of birds across approximately 400 sites in Alaska.

The short-term implementation goal of ALMS is to survey a grid of 25 points within each of 100 randomly selected sample units with ALMS matching the number of BBS surveys run in each of Alaska's BCRs (see Table 1 for proposed and current sampling). In addition, we aim to establish new surveys in the Aleutian and Bering Sea islands, which have no roadside surveys. Surveys will be conducted biennially, with 50 surveys run in alternating year. Routes were stratified by accessibility and cost-effectiveness and the initial set of surveys are located in areas accessible by foot, vehicle, boat, or fixed-wing aircraft as these can be surveyed more cheaply and reliably over time. For this reason, BCRs 4 (Interior) and 5 (Northern Pacific Rainforest) were targeted first and additional routes in the remaining BCRs will continue to be added to the program. In particular, Western and Arctic Alaska (BCRs 2 and 3) are of primary interest due to predicted effects of climate change on these regions.

Each grid will be surveyed using 10-min point-transects once per summer on a biennial basis; habitat data will also be collected. Trend data will be analyzed jointly with BBS data to test for differences between roadless and roadside areas and to increase power to detect statewide trends. Additional grids will be surveyed in areas that are more difficult and expensive to access as resources become available in the future. Long-term monitoring will enable analysis of change in bird populations in relation to fire, disease and insect damage, resource development, climate-related change, and other landscape-level disturbances in these threatened forests.

Status of ALMS

Although ALMS is a new program, considerable progress has already been made in establishing surveys and gaining agency support. As of the 2009 field season, 60 surveys have been instituted in BCRs 4 and 5 combined (Table 1). ALMS has also received broad backing from nine state, federal, and non-governmental agencies which signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2005 supporting the program. We still need your help, however, to establish new surveys on individual land units to reach the statewide goal of implementing and maintaining 100 ALMS survey routes. In 2009, roving survey teams were introduced to ALMS with the intent of increasing efficiency in establishing new plots. This program was funded by a State Wildlife Grant, which pays for observer salaries, major travel costs, and data entry. Roving teams, composed of trained observers provided by the Alaska Bird Observatory, set up new routes in Kanuti and Innoko National Wildlife Refuges in 2009 and we are seeking additional participants in future years. To find out more about how to participate in ALMS please see the additional information included on this site or contact the Program Coordinator.

Table 1. Target number of surveys to be conducted for the Alaska Landbird Monitoring Survey and current participation in the program. Most sites will be surveyed biennially, with 50 sites surveyed per year.

Bird Conservation Region Unit Target Current Needed
1 Aleutians/Bering Sea Islands 7 4 3
2 Western 17 1 16
3 Arctic 6 0 6
4 N. Interior* 45 34 11
5 Pacific 25 26 0
  Total 100 65 36

Additional information on ALMS

Program coordinator

Colleen Handel
U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center
4210 University Dr., Anchorage, AK 99508

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Page Last Modified: October 23 2014 15:58:48.