The third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (Atlas-3) is a province-wide volunteer bird survey. Beginning on January 1, 2021, the community science project will run for five years. The object is to record breeding birds across Ontario to determine their distribution and abundance.
This project can only be successful through mass participation. If you love birds and are passionate about nature, we strongly encourage you to get involved. It’s easy and free to participate. Here’s how:
Who Can Participate
Anyone in Ontario with a love for birds and an internet connection can participate in Atlas-3. While no formal training is required, having a good knowledge of birds in your area will make you more efficient. We have a guide to birding in the city and our partners at Birds Canada have an excellent tool to learn more about birds in your area.
To quickly get started with the Atlas, check our Quick-Start Guide. First, register for the Atlas. You will be asked to enter some personal information and select which regions you plan on birding in. Next, download the free NatureCounts app from the App Store or Google Play onto your smartphone. Sign in using the account you made to register for the Atlas. You will then be asked which project you are a part of. Select “Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas” and you’re ready to go.
In the Field
The Atlas has divided Ontario into ten-kilometre squares. You can bird in the square you live in or any other of your choice.
You can even go atlassing from the comfort of your own home. If, like myself, you have bird feeders in your backyard, you already know what a rich variety of birds will visit. If you live somewhere with little bird activity or just want to explore other birding haunts, you do not have to travel far.
For my first time atlassing, I visited two locations near my home, each about a ten-minute walk from the other. I began at a pond just north of my home. It’s a place where I’ve had the good fortune to observe many birds that don’t visit my feeders, like the bufflehead duck and the tree swallow.
First, I found a shady rock to perch on. I opened the NatureCounts app and selected “CREATE” to set up my checklist. The app automatically notes the date and start time. Next, I select what type of atlassing I am doing. I selected “General Atlassing” as I am not doing any of the specialized checklists. Finally, I entered my starting location. If you have location services enabled, the app will find your location for you. If you’re a privacy hawk, you can manually enter your location using the app provided.
With that taken care of, I was ready to bird!
While I was setting up my checklist, I could already hear the familiar “konk-ka-ree” call of the redwing blackbirds that have made their home in the trees that line the pond. Sure enough, I saw two cross the pond. Next, came the tree swallows, flying low over the pond to feed on water-based insects. To accompany these acrobatics were the cheerful calls of goldfinches, northern cardinals, and robins. With the help of my binoculars, I was able to locate these melodious songbirds.
After a half hour, I opened the NatureCounts app and entered my data.
The app shows a table with three columns. The first is a list of bird species in Ontario. The list is quite long, but you can search for the birds you saw in the search bar at the top of the screen to save time. The next column is labeled “B.E.” or “Breeding Evidence.” Here, I can select the type of observation I had. Let’s take the northern cardinal I saw. What first brought this bird to my attention was its unmistakable song, so I selected “S – Singing” as the observation. Next, I entered the number of cardinals I saw in the third column. I simply double clicked the “plus” sign under the column labeled “Total” and entered the number of cardinals I saw, which was two. I repeated this process for each bird I saw.
With my first checklist done, I moved on to my next location. After spending some time at the pond, I decided to go deep into the forest. I found a nice log conveniently located a few feet off the trail, along a gentle creek. The leafy canopy protected me from the heat of the day. I set up my next checklist like before and was ready to go.
The only problem is there were no birds present. I could hear some distant calls, but nothing definitive. Herein lies an important quality any birder must have… patience. Not everywhere you go will be teeming with birds.
For five minutes, I sat, carefully scanning my surroundings for any signs of life. I saw a few squirrels rustling in the brush, but that was all.
Suddenly, two American robins swooped down from above, landing on the edge of the creek. It was bath time. Both robins cautiously entered the stream, in an alcove where the water pooled and there was no current to tug them away. While the robins bathed, I was soon joined by blue jays, black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers and a red-bellied woodpecker.
There was one other bird on a branch on the other side of the creek. It looked like a Carolina wren, but I couldn’t be sure. In such cases, we advise, “If in doubt, leave it out!”
After a half hour watching the forest come to life, I entered my observations like I did before.
With that, I completed my first round of atlassing. The process was easy and gave me a convenient excuse to go birding and be around nature.