Boreal Landbird Monitoring

Reliable monitoring is fundamental to effective management and conservation of avian populations. The BAM Avian and Biophysical Databases were developed, in part, to support these activities and together they have greatly improved our ability to assess the status of boreal landbird species and model species distributions. These databases have also enabled BAM to contribute to the development and improvement of boreal bird monitoring programs more generally by:

  • recommending optimal point count protocols for density estimation (Matsuoka et al. 2011a, 2014), 
  • quantifying the impacts of roadside bias on population size estimates and developing methods to adjust for these biases (Matsuoka et al. 2011b, Sólymos et al. 2020), and
  • improving methods for harmonizing data from automated recording units (ARUs) and human-based surveys so they can be jointly used in analyses.

Despite the extensive database collated by BAM, the data still does not fully represent the environmental variables thought to drive species distribution and habitat use, and temporal replication is lacking in large portions of the boreal forest. These data gaps limit our ability to quantify changes in species status and distribution, and to extrapolate trend analyses to populations of boreal birds (Van Wilgenburg et al. 2015, 2018). Several BAM contributing scientists from the Canadian Wildlife Service (S. Van Wilgenburg, S. Hache, L. Mahon, and J.Toms) are using the BAM Biophysical and Avian Databases to design a national Boreal Monitoring Strategy intended to fill these data gaps and provide reliable estimates of status and trend that meet the information needs of federal legislation involving boreal landbirds.


Figure: Probability of environmental covariates (climate and landcover) being represented within the Boreal Avian Modeling database.

Conservation Applications:

  • BAM continues to support Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) in the development of a Boreal Avian Monitoring Strategy.
  • BAM supported ECCC in the development of a sampling scheme known as the Boreal Optimal Sampling Strategy (BOSS).
  • We provided a summary of sampling coverage in Alberta to partner forest companies, to guide point count sampling during the 2019 field season by companies like Weyerhaeuser, Al-Pac, and West Fraser. 
  • Evaluated relationships among species’ detectability, phylogeny, and traits to inform conclusions from community studies and allow derivation of placeholder detectability estimates for species with currently insufficient data (Solymos et al. 2013c)
  • Recommended optimal point count protocols for density estimation (Matsuoka et al. 2011a, 2014).
  • Informed or developed several model-based sampling designs, including for oil sands monitoring, Moose Cree First Nation Homelands, and forest companies in BC and Alberta.
  • Conducted analyses to assess (1) where additional BBS routes could fill in spatial coverage data gaps (Matsuoka et al. 2011b), and (2) locations of geographic and environmental data gaps (Territories).
  • Quantified the impacts of roadside bias on population size estimates and developed methods to adjust for these biases (Matsuoka et al. 2011b).


Van Wilgenburg, S. L., Mahon, C. L.,Campbell, G., McLeod, L., Campbell, M., Evans, D., Easton, W., Francis, C. M., Haché, S., Machtans, C. S., Mader, C., Pankratz, R. F., Russell, R., Smith, A. C., Thomas, P., Toms, J. D., and Tremblay, J. A., 2020. A cost efficient spatially balanced hierarchical sampling design for monitoring boreal birds incorporating access costs and habitat stratification. PLoS ONE.

Sólymos, P., Toms, J.D., Matsuoka, S.M., Cumming, S.G., Barker, N.K.S., Thogmartin, W.E., Stralberg, D., Crosby, A.D., Dénes, F.V., Haché, S., Mahon, C.L., Schmiegelow, F.K.A., Bayne, E.M., 2020. Lessons learned from comparing spatially explicit models and the Partners in Flight approach to estimate population sizes of boreal birds in Alberta, Canada. The Condor 122.

Van Wilgenburg, S.L., Hobson, K.A., Kardynal, K.J., Beck, E.M., 2018. Temporal changes in avian abundance in aspen-dominated boreal mixedwood forests of central Saskatchewan, Canada. Avian Conserv Ecol 13.

Van Wilgenburg, S., Beck, E., Obermayer, B., Joyce, T., Weddle, B., 2015. Biased representation of disturbance rates in the roadside sampling frame in boreal forests: implications for monitoring design. Avian Conservation and Ecology 10.

Matsuoka, S.M., Mahon, C.L., Handel, C.M., Sólymos, P., Bayne, E.M., Fontaine, T., Ralph, C.J., 2014. Reviving common standards in point-count surveys for broad inference across studies. Condor 116, 599–608.

Matsuoka, S.M., Sólymos, P., Bayne, E.M. and Song, S.J. (2011), Suggestions for Collecting Additional Data during Point Count Surveys Conducted by Paid Breeding Bird Atlas Crews in Canada, Technical Report for Environment Canada, Boreal Avian Modelling Project, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, available at:

Matsuoka, S.M., Sólymos, P., Fontaine, T. and Bayne, E.M. (2011), Roadside Surveys of Boreal Forest Birds: How Representative Are They and How Can We Improve Current Sampling?, Report to Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Boreal Avian Modelling Project, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, available at: