National Park Service

Sierra Nevada Network (SIEN)

Bird Monitoring

Western Tanager
Western Tanager. Photo by Gary Lindquist.

Bird Monitoring Briefs

Bird Monitoring Reports

Bird Monitoring Protocol


For more information contact:
Sylvia Haultain

Bird Monitoring brief

Bird monitoring in the Sierra Nevada Network parks resource brief
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Importance & Issues

The Sierra Nevada's wide range of elevations support the most diverse assortment of terrestrial habitats and birds of any bioregion in California. Approximately 200 species of birds use Sierra Nevada Network (SIEN) parks as breeding or wintering habitat, or feeding areas along their migration routes.

Although SIEN parks represent vitally important and relatively intact bird habitat, numerous stressors affect SIEN bird populations. Large-scale stressors such as climate change and pollution affect birds globally, but more localized problems such as altered fire regimes and non-native species invasions also put birds at-risk. Numerous bird species rely on migration stopover sites and wintering grounds outside the parks, many of which are being rapidly altered by development, logging, agriculture, and water diversions.

Because of their high body temperature, rapid metabolism, and high position on most food webs, birds are excellent integrators of local and larger-scale environmental change on terrestrial ecosystems. Birds play important roles in park ecosystems, including seed dispersal and insect predation. Birds contribute substantially to animal diversity, representing more than 60 percent of the total number of vertebrate species in SIEN parks, and are a major focus of interest to park visitors and the general public.

A long-term program to monitor birds in the Sierra Nevada will help park managers quantify, understand, interpret, and address changes in bird populations.

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Monitoring Objectives & Approach

Monitoring birds in Devils Postpile National Monument. Monitoring birds in Devils Postpile National Monument.

The goal of this monitoring project is to assess park-wide and network-wide bird population trends by monitoring population densities across the parks' diverse habitats and broad range of habitats.

This project uses point count methods to monitor bird populations. Due to the large size and the remoteness of much of the designated wilderness of Sequoia and Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks, sampling was limited to areas relatively close to trails to reduce the travel time to monitoring sites. Monitoring occurs along randomly selected transects that are within 1 mile of trails. In Devils Postpile National Monument (with a total size of 800 acres), a systematic grid of 42 points is monitored every year.

The objectives of this monitoring protocol are to:

  • Detect population trends of bird species that are monitored well by point counts (birds readily identifiable from their appearance and calls) throughout accessible areas of Sierra Nevada Network parks, during the breeding season.
  • Track changes in breeding-season distribution of bird species throughout accessible areas of Sierra Nevada Network parks.

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Management Applications

  • Bird monitoring data will provide a better understanding of biological response to climate change: Mountain-dwelling birds have already responded to climate change in many parts of the world and similar changes may be documented with monitoring data for the Sierra Nevada.
Hairy woodpecker Hairy woodpecker. Photo by Gary Lindquist.

  • Bird monitoring will help identify species at risk and provide information toward developing solutions to threats and minimizing effects of stressors.
  • Birds are indicators of park condition at an extensive spatial scale. Information from bird monitoring will provide a rich dataset for addressing priority research and management questions and informing park resource stewardship plans.
  • Birds are the most familiar and widely enjoyed wildlife in America. Monitoring results could be interpreted to the public through bird walks, presentations, and special events.
  • Many other Inventory & Monitoring Networks are monitoring bird communities, and the methods are well-developed and standardized, allowing for regional or larger-scale analyses of bird status and trends.

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Project Cooperators

The Institute for Bird Populations


Last Updated: December 30, 2016 Contact Webmaster