Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region Joint Venture Staff Host Secretive Marsh Bird Monitoring Workshop in Milwaukee
Midwest Region, August 1, 2012
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Rails, bitterns, and grebes make up the bird group often referred to as “secretive marsh birds.” Relatively little is known about the group’s abundance, distribution, population trends, habitat relationships, or management needs, in large part because of their inconspicuous nature. Some marsh birds (Sora, King Rail, Virginia Rail, Common Moorhen, and American Coot) provide hunting opportunity and are designated “webless migratory game birds.” The Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region Joint Venture (JV) completed a habitat conservation strategy for waterbirds including marsh birds in 2007 (www.UpperMissGreatLakesJV.org). This document identified and prioritized research and monitoring needs for secretive marsh bird habitat conservation in the region.


The Midwest Region (IA, IL, IN, MI, MN, MO, OH and WI) has played a leading role in addressing information gaps related to secretive marsh bird populations and management. In 2008, Wisconsin became the first state in the U.S. where biologists used a new standardized population survey protocol to determine marsh bird occurrence and measure abundance. Between 2009 and 2012, scientists in Iowa, Michigan, and Missouri began using the same standardized protocol. In addition, the Midwest National Wildlife Refuge Inventory and Monitoring Team initiated a review of marsh bird population data collected on refuges. Finally, the Midwest Coordinated Bird Monitoring (CBM) Partnership became established in early 2009, with conservation and monitoring of secretive marsh birds identified as one of their highest priorities. The CBM partnership also established an ad hoc Midwest Marsh Bird Monitoring Working Group to help coordinate and expand the marsh bird survey.

With the pilot survey protocol considered a viable technique for marsh bird monitoring, JV staff joined scientists from Wisconsin, Michigan, and the Region 3 CBM Program to organize a workshop for sharing marsh bird monitoring information, better integrate survey efforts across political boundaries, and assure future marsh bird monitoring and management initiatives are linked (i.e., monitoring used to measure management effect). Held in Milwaukee on 1 August, the workshop goal was to “Develop an initial secretive marsh bird monitoring program, with focus on shared objectives and recommendations for the Midwest Region.”

Eighteen people participated in the workshop, which began with reviewing the role of monitoring as an essential part of any wildlife conservation scheme. We discussed the explicit relationship between monitoring and management – planning, implementation, monitoring (e.g., habitat and populations), evaluation, and adapting and improving management based on monitoring results – and framed our workshop discussion around the following steps to successful management through monitoring:

1. Establish a clear purpose
2. Determine whether an existing program or protocol meets your needs
3. Assemble a team of collaborators with complementary interests and skills
4. Summarize the relationship of target populations to other ecosystem elements, processes and stressors (Build a conceptual model)
5. Develop a statistically robust approach to sampling and data analysis
6. Design and pilot standardized field protocols that minimize error and bias
7. Identify or develop a data management system
8. Implement the monitoring program
9. Present results in a format that supports sound management and conservation decisions
10. Evaluate and adjust management and monitoring to make better bird conservation decisions

Workshop discussion highlights and associated recommendations for a Midwest marsh bird monitoring program will appear in a Joint Venture technical report posted on the Midwest CBM website: http://midwestbirdmonitoring.ning.com/

Contact Info: Gregory Soulliere, 517-351-4214, Greg_Soulliere@fws.gov
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