National Park Service

Northeast Temperate Network (NETN)

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Birds (class Aves) are winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. There are around 10,000 living species, making them the most numerous tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 3 m (10 ft) Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 150 to 200 Ma (million years ago), and the earliest known bird is the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx, c 150 to 145 Ma. Most paleontologists regard birds as the only clade (a group consisting of an ancestor and all its descendants) of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event approximately 65.5 Ma.

The term "waterbird" refers to bird species dependent on aquatic habitats to complete portions of their life cycles. Waterbirds can be further characterized by other non-technical terms relating to where they typically forage. Coastal waterbirds primarily utilize the interface between land and both salt and fresh water, and are often colonial nesters.

Importance & Issues

jefferson salamanderBirds are an important component of park ecosystems, and their high body temperature, rapid metabolism, and prominent position in most food webs make them a good indicator of local and regional ecosystem change.  It has been suggested that management activities aimed at preserving habitat for bird populations, such as for neotropical migrants, can have the added benefit of preserving entire ecosystems and their attendant ecosystem services.  Moreover, among the public, birds are a high profile taxa, and many parks provide information on the status and trends of the park’s avian community through their interpretive materials and programs.

In 2002, BOHA was designated as a Massachusetts Important Bird Area (IBA).  IBA sites provide essential habitat to one or more species of breeding, wintering, or migrating birds and generally support high-priority species, large concentrations of birds, exceptional bird habitat, and/or have substantial research or educational value.  Many of these species nest colonially, some in mixed-species colonies.  Required breeding habitat varies by species, but include beaches, rocky shores, cliffs, open ground, shrub and tree communities.

In developing comprehensive long-term monitoring plans, birds are among the best taxonomic groups to monitor because: 1) they are the most easily and inexpensively detected and identified vertebrate animals, 2) a single survey method is effective for many species, 3) accounting and managing for many species with different ecological requirements promotes conservation strategies at the landscape scale, 4) many reference datasets and standard methods are available, and 5) the response variability is fairly well understood. 

Monitoring Objective

The Boston Harbor Islands provide habitat for a significant number of colonial-nesting waterbirds and breeding wading birds. The protocol focuses on obtaining information on the relative abundance of coastal breeding species by estimating or directly counting all nests, incubating adults, or territorial nesting pairs that breed on islands at Boston Harbor Islands. Coastal breeding bird monitoring will also support and inform management decisions that may affect avian populations. Additional goals are to increase the visibility of the I&M program and to involve the public with the network’s monitoring program. 


Determine annual changes in relative abundance of high priority coastal breeding bird species (Least Terns, Common Terns, and American Oystercatchers).

Conduct an annual surveillance program within the park to identify future use by threatened or endangered coastal breeding bird species, such as Piping Plover or Roseate Tern.

Determine long-term trends in species composition and relative abundance of priority coastal breeding bird species

Provide information that can be used to improve our understanding of the relationship between coastal breeding birds, their habitat, and management actions.


Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster