Frequently Asked Questions

Thanks for your interest in Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas-3! Are you thinking about registering as a volunteer? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

© Frank Leung

About the Atlas

What is Atlas-3?

Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas-3 (Atlas-3) is an ambitious and collaborative project that aims to map the abundance and distribution of Ontario’s ~300 species of breeding birds. This enormous citizen science 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. Breeding bird atlases are typically completed every 20 years in a jurisdiction. In Ontario, 2021 marks the start of the third atlas, which will hopefully be the best one yet!

Why is Atlas-3 important?

Breeding bird atlases provide invaluable data on the abundance and distribution of breeding bird populations. Data collected as part of Atlas-3 will also provide us with insight into how breeding bird populations have changed since the previous two atlases in Ontario (1981-85 and 2001-05). The results of Atlas-3 will provide important data on birds to guide environmental policies and conservation strategies for years to come. The data collected will provide essential information for researchers, scientists, government officials, and conservation professionals to improve the conservation status and appreciation for birds in Ontario.

How long will Atlas-3 take place?

Data collection for Atlas-3 will occur from 2021 to 2025.

How are data collected during Atlas-3?

An atlas divides the province into 10×10 km squares, and then volunteer birders find as many breeding species as possible in each square. Volunteers who know birds well by song can also do 5-minute “point counts”, 25 of which are needed to provide an index of the abundance of each species in a square. There are approximately 2000 squares south of Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, and we need to cover them all! In northern Ontario, due to its sheer size and difficulty of access, we will cover a sample of squares in each 100×100 km block.

Volunteer Opportunities

What volunteer opportunities are available?

There are many opportunities to volunteer with the Atlas. You can volunteer to be an atlasser who documents evidence of breeding birds in one or more squares. You could also volunteer to conduct point counts in squares, which requires more advanced birding-by-ear skills. Experienced birders may wish to volunteer as mentors for less experienced birders by sharing their knowledge and birding tips. If you live in a remote area and are still working on your birding skills, perhaps you might be willing to deploy Automated Recording Units (ARUs) in your area. If you have a special interest or skill in specialized bird surveys (e.g., owls or marsh birds), then you may wish to become a specialist atlasser. If you already participate in a Birds Canada survey of owls, marshes or nightjars, then your data will be incorporated into the Atlas. The Atlas is adding more of these surveys and looking for people to take them on.

Please contact Kaelyn Bumelis, Atlas Assistant Coordinator, for more information on available volunteer roles and opportunities.

What is a Regional Coordinator and what is their role?

Ontario has 47 atlas regions, which helps us to coordinate square coverage on a regional basis. Regional Coordinators are volunteers who oversee a given atlas region to help ensure we get adequate volunteer recruitment and square coverage. Regional Coordinators help recruit volunteers, assign squares, review data, and provide support to atlasser volunteers. Regional Coordinators know their region and the birds in their region, and are important resources for atlassers. Contact Us

Do I need to contact the Regional Coordinator (RC) for the area I am surveying?

Although it is not essential that you contact the RC, it is highly recommended, especially in your home region or in squares where you intend to do a lot of work, so that the RC knows for planning and assignment purposes. They may also suggest which squares are in particular need of help. Click here for a Regional Coordinator contact information.

I am an experienced birder, who knows birds well by song. How can I best participate?

There are several possibilities, including: contact your RC about taking on responsibility for covering one or more squares over the 5 years of the project, including doing point counts; ask your RC how you can help fill in gaps in coverage or in point counts; sign up to help in other regions; help mentor less experienced birders; ask your RC if they need help with record review.

Do I have to be an experienced birder to volunteer?

No! We need birders of all skill levels to contribute to the Atlas in order for it to be a success. It is useful if you have some level of birding skills to get started. Check out this quiz to help you decide whether volunteering with the Atlas is a good fit for your time commitment and interests. The Atlas is a great opportunity for less experienced birders to improve their birding skills over the course of the five year project. We encourage you to buddy with a more experienced birder to learn first-hand in the field. You can also check out these resources for improving or honing your bird identification skills.

Can I participate as a “casual” volunteer?

Yes! You can participate casually if you don’t have much time to contribute. Even a few hours of your time in the field is valuable to the project. To provide data, or to get onto the atlas mailing list, you must still register as a volunteer with the project.

Do I have to conduct point counts to participate?

No! You do not need to conduct point counts to participate. See above for the volunteer opportunities. If you don’t like doing point counts, or are still working on your birding-by-ear skills, you can still volunteer to find and document breeding bird evidence in one or more squares.

Do I need to be able to identify birds by song to participate?

No! You don’t need to be able to identify birds by ear. If you can identify birds by sight and report breeding evidence for them (e.g., carrying food for young, nest building), then this is a valuable contribution. But, we do recommend that you practice and improve your birding-by-ear skills by using these resources or shadowing an experienced birder in the field. Birding by ear not only improves your abilities as a birder and an atlasser but also helps you connect deeper with the natural world.

What time of year do surveys take place?

The bulk of atlassing and point counts takes place in late May to early July, depending on where you are in Ontario. However, some bird groups need to be surveyed for outside of this period (e.g., owls which breed earlier in the year), and many others are actively breeding from April through July.

What is the time commitment required to volunteer?

There is no minimum time requirement for participating as a volunteer. If you only have a couple of hours to spend atlassing, then you can still participate! You still need to register as a participant. But, we are hoping as many people as possible will take responsibility for ensuring that squares get 20 hours of coverage. It’s very satisfying to take on a square and see it through to completion, and it’s a marvelous contribution to the project.

I can’t commit to surveying an entire atlas square. Can I still volunteer?

Yes! Each atlas square requires 20 hours total of atlassing across the five years (2021-2025) before it is considered complete. However, a single volunteer doesn’t need to survey an entire square on their own. Regional Coordinators can help divide up the responsibility for covering a square in their region. If you only have a few hours to commit, you can still participate, but you still need to register.

Can I survey in more than one atlas square?

Yes, you can survey in more than one square. Please coordinate with the respective Regional Coordinator(s) – Contact your Regional Coordinator.

How can I improve my birding skills?

The best way to improve your birding skills is to pair up with a more experienced birder in the field. You can also use these resources to sharpen your skills. You can also attend field trips led by your local birding club or the Ontario Field Ornithologists – (see OFOs upcoming trips).

Where can I register as a volunteer?

You can register as a volunteer with Atlas-3 here.

Indigenous Community Involvement

I work for an Indigenous community. Who should I contact to request data from previous atlases?

Data from Atlas-1 (1981-1985) and Atlas-2 (2001-2005) can be downloaded from: the NatureCounts web portal. Contact the Atlas office ( if you need more information.

What are some ways Indigenous communities and Atlas-3 could work together?

  • A member of the Atlas management team or Indigenous Engagement Committee would be delighted to discuss the Atlas project with your community to explore possible ways of working together.
  • Learning and understanding is important and ongoing. Ideas and suggestions are most welcome. To help get a conversation started, we offer a few potential ways to be involved in the Atlas:
    • Participating in an Atlas committee or working group to provide advice and guidance on key atlas decisions.
    • Liaising between your community and the Atlas, and establishing and facilitating communication between the Atlas and your community.
    • Using your knowledge of birds and their songs to survey birds and to gather evidence of bird breeding.
    • Placing acoustic recorders in remote sites to record bird songs and recovering them after several weeks.
    • Participating in efforts to identify the songs of the species recorded by the acoustic recorders.
    • Organizing and presenting at community gatherings to share traditional ecological knowledge, local and science knowledge.
    • Guiding an atlas expedition into remote traditional territories.
    • Following Atlas social media to stay up to date on progress and information about your area.
    • Participating in training opportunities to enhance bird identification and atlassing skills.

Who do I contact if I am working for an Indigenous Nation or organization and we would like to get more involved in the atlas?

You can contact Julee Boan (Ontario Nature Boreal Program Manager)

How do I join the Indigenous Engagement Committee?

You can contact the Indigenous Engagement Committee Co-Chairs, Russ Weeber and Ted Cheskey

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