Atlas Data Request

Data from the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas can now be downloaded from Bird Studies Canada's Avian Knowledge Network (AKN) portal called NatureCounts. From that page, you can request complete datasets for the entire province, or use the custom search to define search criteria for specific species, or a specific geographic area. Access to the site is free, but you need to register to complete a data request.

Please make sure that you read the data release terms (a copy is available below and on NatureCounts), and that you complete the data request form on NatureCounts. Incomplete requests may be turned down, so please make sure that you provide all requested details. Note also that requests involving exact coordinates of species at risk must be approved by the Atlas data release committee, consisting of Bird Studies Canada, the Natural Heritage Information Center and Environment Canada. If you need to obtain such records, please be very specific about what species and area are of interest, and provide a justification for requesting those records. Data extractions from NatureCounts will normally not involve any fees, but a fee may be requested to process other types of customized requests.

To understand how the data was collected, you are encourage to read the Guide for participants, as well as the field data forms, both available from this page.

Datasets available for download

The Atlas database consists of several components, most of which are openly available for download through NatureCounts. Various types of summaries are also available and can easily be downloaded using the data summary page.

It is important to note that the datasets available on this web site do not include observations of non-breeding birds (records coded as X), or records not accepted by the Atlas Significant Species Committee. The decisions to exclude records was most often made on the basis of the probability (or lack thereof) that the species was breeding where it was reported according to the standard atlas guidelines and breeding evidence code definitions. All information available was used to inform those decisions (observation dates, habitat, behaviour, and other details reported by the atlassers).

It is also important to note that some species at risk records have been excluded from datasets that provide exact coordinates of individual sightings, including primarily the point count dataset and the Rare/Colonial forms. That decision was made in order to protect those rare species from excessive disturbance. Those records are however included in all datasets that report the information at the 10x10 km square level (breeding evidence tables). People interested in acquiring those records of species at risk must complete an application form and provide the rationale for accessing them. Those requests will be evaluated by an Atlas data release committee using guidelines provided by the Ontario Natural Heritage Information Center.

Breeding Evidence (second Ontario Atlas, 2001-2005)

  • Breeding evidence, summarized to the highest breeding evidence per species in each square. This is the version that was used to produce breeding evidence maps published in the book.
  • Breeding evidence, as provided by participants (raw data). Typically contains the highest breeding evidence code reported by an individual participant for each species in a given year within each square.
  • Effort data, summarized by square (total number of hours spent atlassing in each square).
  • Effort data, as provided by participants (raw effort). Includes date, time and effort of individual visits, that can be linked to the raw breeding evidence data (first encounter of a species only).

Breeding Evidence (first Ontario Atlas, 1981-1985)

  • Breeding evidence, summarized to the highest breeding evidence per species in each square. The square numbers are provided using the most current numbering system). This is the version that was used to produce breeding evidence maps in the first book.
  • Breeding evidence, raw data (as provided by participants). Typically contains the highest breeding evidence code reported by an individual participant for each species in a given year within each square.
  • Effort data, summarized by square (total number of hours spent atlassing in each square). Raw effort data is not available for the first Atlas.

Point Counts (second Ontario Atlas, 2001-2005)

Point counts are a new addition to the second atlas, and are therefore only available for 2001-2005. Over 66,000 individual point counts were conducted throughout Ontario during the project. Each point count was 5 minutes long, during which the number of individuals of each species were counted separately within or beyond a 100m radius (unlimited distance). The data file available for unrestricted download does not include the records for the species listed in Table 1, but a summary of the number of records of each of those species within each square is available.

  • Point count header (one record per sampling event, including date, time, location, habitat, etc.).
  • Point count data (one record per species recorded). Records of species that were not considered at least possible breeders in a square were excluded from the point count dataset, although not all individual records necessarily refer to breeding birds. This table also excludes a small number of species at risk records (listed in Table 1).
  • Summary of the Point count species at risk records that are excluded from the Point count data table.

Rare/Colonial Species (second Ontario Atlas, 2001-2005)

The following datasets contain information on sensitive species and have restrictions, and their release must be approved by the Atlas data release committee.

  • Point count data for species at risk, only available under special request.
  • Rare/Colonial Species data, including species, squares, date, coordinates, breeding code and number of adults and/or nests.

Lookup tables

Lookup table are available for download here. They contain the following information:

  • Atlas regions
  • Atlas squares
  • Breeding evidence codes
  • Species codes
  • Habitat codes (used with point counts)

Spatial framework

The atlas grid (squares and blocks) are also available for download here. The atlas grid for the first atlas was based on the NAD27 projection, and differed only very slightly from the NAD83 projection used for the second atlas (at most a few hundred meters). Only the grid from the second Atlas (NAD83) is provided here.

  • 10 x 10 km squares. ESRI Shapefile with metadata.
  • 100 x 100 km blocks. ESRI Shapefile with metadata.

Other data

Additional data may be available upon request to Bird Studies Canada (scanned images of Rare/Colonial Species report forms, interpolated abundance maps, etc.).

Data release conditions

Policy on the Release, Use and Publication of Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Data by Outside Users
Approved by Atlas Management Board - January 2008

It is the Atlas Management Board's policy to encourage the publication of important research findings based on Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas data, and to encourage the use of Atlas data by land management authorities, planners, naturalists and others. It is also the Board's policy that appropriate credit be given to the Atlas partnering organizations for their contributions to the publication of such findings based on Atlas data.

The following organizations/agencies are the official Atlas partners:

  • Bird Studies Canada (BSC)
  • Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS)
  • Ontario Nature - Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON)
  • Ontario Field Ornithologists (OFO)
  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR)

Most data requests will be answered by BSC.

Disclaimer: It is important to note that the data in the database have been reviewed or approved. Nevertheless, some errors may still exist in the database. For information concerning the accuracy and appropriate uses of these data, contact the Atlas office.

Accessing atlas data: Atlas data alone should not form the main basis of a scientific publication, unless a formal data request is completed, as described below. Interpretation of this is at the discretion of the Atlas data review committee. In general, use of selected atlas data records in combination with other data, e.g., for a publication on birds of a particular region, would not require explicit permission, but a paper on the distribution of a particular species, based solely on atlas data, would require a formal data request.

Unless otherwise arranged, any Atlas data provided to researchers/authors is provided with the clear understanding that it will be used for one specific purpose only (e.g. proposed publication, graduate thesis). If the researchers/authors wish to use the same data for a purpose different from that of the original request, the researchers/authors must apply for permission to use the data for this different purpose. No data provided by the Atlas can be distributed beyond the researchers/authors requesting the data.

Personal Information. The Atlas does not release names and contact information of participants who collected the data.

Technical Considerations. BSC will generally provide data in Microsoft Access, Excel, comma-delimited text files or ESRI shapefiles (in the case of map layers). If you are requesting data within a specific study area, you should either provide the coordinates of a bounding box, the name of the survey sites you need (eg, atlas square numbers or regions) or a shapefile delimiting your area. Failure to do so may result in additional charges.

Atlas data can be accessed in two ways:

1. Data summaries from the atlas web page

The atlas web page facilitates summarizing basic breeding evidence and point count data from the atlas. Summaries or maps generated from the web page may be printed or otherwise used for personal use, or for inclusion in reports or articles, whether published or not, without further restriction or permission, provided that:

  • due caution is taken regarding the limitations of the data;
  • appropriate credit is given to the atlas (see below);
  • the raw data are not directly distributed to third parties (who should get them from the web page);
  • atlas data alone do not form the main basis of a scientific publication (see above).

2. Data requests

Other forms of atlas data not available from the summary page can be requested by completing the form above.

Species at Risk: Atlas data concerning site locations of species at risk (i.e. those listed by COSEWIC and/or COSSARO), and those designated provincially rare by the atlas project, are provided to the MNR's Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC). Requests for data on species at risk should be made to NHIC. More general summaries of the occurrence of species at risk by 10-km square or region are available from the web page.

Acknowledgements: Researchers/authors using atlas data agree to use the following acknowledgement:

"Thanks to the official sponsors of the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Bird Studies Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Ontario Field Ornithologists, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) for supplying Atlas data, and to the thousands of volunteer participants who gathered data for the project."

Prior to a media release based on Atlas data, the draft release must be approved by the Atlas data review committee and the Atlas should be able to have input to the release.

Review of manuscripts (or parts thereof) by designated Atlas representatives before submission to scientific journals is requested as a courtesy.

Citation: Please cite the website as: 

Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Nature, Ontario Field Ornithologists and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. 2006. Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Website.

Please cite the database as: Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service, Ontario Nature, Ontario Field Ornithologists and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. 2006. Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas Database, 31 January 2008.

Authorship: Persons planning a scientific publication using atlas data not obtained through the atlas web page agree to discuss the project and authorship with the Atlas data review committee and other relevant partners, before they begin work on the manuscript. This will help avoid misunderstandings about commitments and authorship and about any restrictions that may be imposed by the Atlas partners. The concern is that all involved in the original project and in the preparation of the manuscript for publication be treated fairly.

If a request for data includes proposed research requiring significant support from Atlas partners, then agreement on the role of involved staff, joint authorship, and order of authors must be reached before the data are released.

In cases of conflict over authorship or order of authorship at any time, each party may present written arguments (maximum of 2 typed pages) to the Atlas data review committee. The Atlas data review committee will refer the matter to lead contacts within the partner organizations. Their determination of authors and sequence of authors will be evaluated on contributions in each of the five basic areas of the research investigation: conception, design, data collection, data analysis, and manuscript preparation, and the parties agree that their decision is final.

Fee for Data Extractions: Customized data requests will normally be charged. BSC will normally charge a fee of $75 per hour, $500 per day or $1500 per week to extract and assemble data, but will consider waiving this fee in part or in full for partners institutions and not-for-profit researchers All decisions concerning fees rest with the Atlas Management Board. In the case of requests involving fees, we will contact you prior to starting the work, will indicate the applicable fees, and will ask you to confirm that you want us to proceed.

Page Charges and Reprints: Page charges and reprint costs are the responsibility of the author(s). We request that 5 copies of reprints be submitted to the atlas office.

Copyright: The Atlas partner organizations retain the copyright on all data provided to researchers/authors, unless the copyright has been legally transferred to a client.

Revocation of Privileges: Any researcher/author not abiding by this policy or the terms of the Data Request and Release Form and Publication Agreement may forfeit any future access to Atlas data.

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