About the Atlas

Data collection for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas 3 (Atlas-3) started on January 1, 2021. Volunteer birders will count and record the presence of breeding birds across Ontario – from the south to the north – for five years.
Atlas-3 is a partnership between the same five organizations as Atlas-2: Birds Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment and Climate Change Canada), Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry – Government of Ontario, Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO), and Ontario Nature.

Volunteers are central to the success of the Atlas. This enormous project is achievable only through the mass participation of the province’s birders. It shows what the birding community can accomplish when we work together with a single purpose.

Atlas-3 will be a grand adventure for the province’s birders who make it possible! We cannot do it without your help.

The Purpose of the Atlas

The goal of the Atlas is to map the distribution and relative abundance of Ontario’s approximately 300 species of breeding birds – from as far south as Middle Island in Lake Erie, to Hudson Bay in the north.

The data collected over five years provides essential information for researchers, scientists, government officials and conservation professionals. It will guide environmental policies and conservation strategies for years to come.

Data collection for the two previous Ontario atlasses ran from 1981-1985 and 2001-2005, followed by the publication of books summarizing the results. The two previous projects were enormous (and successful!). But we’re hoping Atlas-3 will be the best one yet – providing an unprecedented understanding of the status, distribution and abundance of the province’s birds and a huge database of information that can be used for bird conservation purposes well into the future.

How an Atlas Works

Simply put, an atlas divides the province into 10×10 km squares and then birders find as many breeding species as possible in each square. Atlassers who know birds well by song can do 5-minute “Point Counts”, 25 of which are required to provide an index of the abundance of each species in a square. Regional Coordinators organize the volunteers and review the data collected in their respective regions.

There are close to 2,000 squares south of Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, and we need to cover them all. Due to the low population density and remote nature of the North, we will cover only a sample of the 10-km squares in each 100×100 km block, right to the north coast. Atlas-3 organizers are committed to respectful engagement and building meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities to conduct the Atlas in the spirit and practice of reconciliation. Please see Importance to Atlas-3 for more information on Indigenous Engagement. 

Data from every square are mapped to show the distribution of each species. Point count data from each square show how the relative abundance of each species varies across the province. Comparing the relative abundance maps from Atlas-3 with those from Atlas-2 will be one of the highlights of the project – and will put us at the leading edge of bird knowledge across the continent.

Who can participate?

Although anyone is welcome to participate in the Atlas, higher levels of birding skill will improve your efficiency and the amount you will be able to contribute.

Finding all the species in your square is a lot easier if you can identify birds by their songs, especially because atlassing largely happens in the summer when vegetation is thick, and birds are harder to see. And, of course, having that skillset makes you a more efficient birder, allows you to do atlas point counts, and helps connect you to the natural world. 

Resources are available to support Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) people and communities who are interested in participating in Atlas-3. Please see Information for Communities for more information.

Sharpening your bird ID skills, especially song recognition

Knowing which birds are most likely to occur in an area helps in narrowing down the ID. Not surprisingly, one of the best sources of information on which species breed where in Ontario are the previous Atlases of the Breeding Birds of Ontario! Other options for quick lists of species likely to be seen or heard in certain regions include Birds Canada’s Photo Identification Guide and eBird Bar Charts – simply select your region and the date range you are interested in.

We’ve compiled information on how you can improve your birding skills at home using your computer, phone or books. Even people who don’t end up doing point counts will benefit from improved birding by ear. We hope you will find this list of materials useful.

Click here for a list of materials to help you improve your bird ID skills.

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Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, Birds Canada, 115 Front Street, P.O. Box 160 Port Rowan, ON, N0E 1M0 Canada
Phone: 1-519-586-3531 E-mail: onatlas@birdscanada.org