Partners in Flight: Landbird Conservation in the 21st Century

ROOM: HCCC, Room 26A
Since 1990, Partners in Flight (PIF) has been at the forefront of landbird conservation in the Western Hemisphere, bringing together over 150 partner organizations to address a simple, proactive mission: Keeping common birds common and helping species at risk through voluntary partnerships. The 2016 Landbird Conservation Plan revision provides the latest assessment of at-risk species and stewardship responsibility for those species across geographies, and lays the framework for population objectives for landbirds most in need of conservation efforts. This symposium includes presentations that dissect the 2016 plan while focusing on PIF’s new and updated tools for landbird conservation, shares success stories and insights from a variety of groups involved in stepping down the 2016 plan, and highlights PIF’s efforts to address complex issues such as climate change, national wildlife conservation policy and funding, new technologies using citizen science, and full life cycle conservation at an international scale.

8:10AM Partners in Flight: A Brief History, Priorities, and Future Direction
  Bob Ford
Declines of Neotropical migratory birds, recognized in the 1980’s, sparked a series of scientific symposia as well as popular books that crystalized a sense of urgency to focus a coordinated effort on the conservation of these species. Wildlife conservation leaders recognized that any such effort required a broad new approach to bird conservation; one that would both complement yet extend beyond endangered species management and supplemental programs such as nest boxes or bird feeders. In response to this urgency, leaders believed the recent success of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan could be a model for other migratory birds. As a result, Partners in Flight was launched in 1990 as a consortium of 250 agencies, organizations, academics, and industrial partners coming together to reverse population declines in migratory birds. The simple but broad original vision to keep common birds common and help species at risk through voluntary partnerships, continues to be the guiding principle for determining priorities and taking action. This approach serves a unique role in bird conservation. Population estimates, population objectives, and habitat conservation actions are set to sustain an abundance of birds, as compared to recovery from rarity, for public benefit and ecosystem services. The key strength of Partners in Flight that makes it a model for conservation partnerships is that it is voluntary, inclusive, and non-adversarial, following a proactive mission and science-based approach. Such a model is well adapted to address the growing global challenges for bird conservation into the future. Using this model, Partners in Flight can continue to provide continental and range-wide context to help guide local action in a world where both threats and conservation opportunities change constantly at those scales.
8:30AM The 2016 PIF Landbird Conservation Plan: an Overview and New Tools
  Becky Keller
The Partners in Flight 2016 Landbird Conservation Plan (2016 Plan) revision came at an urgent time to renew and fortify our efforts to conserve the abundant and diverse avifauna that exists in the United States and Canada. Currently nearly 20% of the landbird species in this geography are headed toward endangerment and extinction if immediate conservation action is not implemented to reverse their declines. Strong science and partnerships have historically led to major successes in the bird conservation community, and emerging citizen science frameworks continue to illuminate the importance of a strong constituency that advocates for birds while also providing invaluable scientific information. The 2016 Plan update provides refined and updated vulnerability assessments for all landbirds in North America, presents tools that integrate these assessments into full life cycle conservation frameworks, and delivers recommendations for moving the plan to implementation in the next 10 years. Valuable new updates to the 2016 Plan include: 1. Extinction Risk models that convey quantitative measures of urgency; 2. Responsibility assignments for continental Watch List species scaled to Joint Ventures and Bird Conservation Regions (BCR); 3. Full life cycle analysis of year-round eBird data to identify areas of greatest importance to migrants in the non-breeding season; 4. Species assessment scores updated with improved access to the associated Partners in Flight database. Overall, the 2016 Plan details the scientific underpinnings of the Partners in Flight approach to landbird conservation and offers numerous solutions to strategically integrate range-wide planning and implementation for landbird populations with other demands being placed upon the landscape. Strong, diverse partnerships will be the key to our success.
8:50AM The PIF Avian Conservation Assessment Database
  Arvind Panjabi
Since its inception, PIF has developed, refined and applied a standardized methodology to assess global extinction and regional extirpation risk among bird species in order to identify vulnerable species and guide allocation of conservation resources. Although other assessments already exist (e.g., IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, NatureServe G- and S-ranks, etc.), these schemes were inadequate to facilitate efficient, coordinated and proactive conservation of North American birds at multiple scales. PIF therefore developed a comprehensive and robust avian assessment process that evaluates distinct components of biological vulnerability, including population size, breeding and non-breeding distribution, population trend, and threats to breeding and non-breeding conditions. The PIF assessment is a transparent, data-driven process, utilizing results from a variety of large-scale surveys, especially the North American Breeding Bird Survey and more recently, eBird. PIF ranks each vulnerability factor for each species on a 1-5 scale that reflects broad categories of vulnerability, each with carefully-defined quantitative and qualitative thresholds, and sums these scores across factors to arrive at the overall level of concern, rather than basing it on any single factor alone. This has the effect of identifying both species at risk of extinction or extirpation in the near term, as well as those with more moderate levels of risk. The PIF approach also has a regional process that incorporates measures of area importance for each species to promote conservation actions for vulnerable species in core areas of their range rather than the periphery, as well as stewardship responsibility for species that are largely restricted to single biomes but not currently at risk. Although originally developed and applied to North American landbirds, the assessment has been expanded and adapted in recent years to cover all 1600 bird species found in continental North America, from Canada to Panama. Results are available at
9:10AM Regional Metrics for Species Prioritization and Conveying Conservation Urgency
  Jessica C. Stanton; Wayne E. Thogmartin
Prioritization of resources and effort for conservation is essential in today’s resource-limited environment. Many of the Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (JVs) utilize the information and guidance provided by Partners in Flight (PIF) to guide regional planning for avian conservation. PIF provides avian priority scores based on population size estimates, distributions in breeding and non-breeding seasons, threats, and population trends. In PIFs most recent update to the Landbird Conservation Plan, a new metric was introduced that conveys the sense of urgency needed for conservation if current trends should continue. This new metric was presented as the ‘half-life’ urgency window for conservation action and represents the forecasted number of years until an abundance that is half the current abundance is reasonably expected to be observed. The half-life metric is based on a broader framework for regionally-based, customizable metrics for ranking priority species and monitoring conservation progress. The approach uses a two-step process where we first fit a Bayesian state-space model to time-series data to parameterize a mean population trend and variance for each species in a region. We then use a diffusion approximation to summarize each species by the time until pre-defined decline thresholds are expected to be observed. The metrics that are generated can be customized to the goals and timelines of regional programs, are quantitative, objective, easy to communicate, and possible to update on a regular basis. We will demonstrate the framework using data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey summarized to individual JV boundaries.
9:30AM Derivation of Geographic Responsibility Assignments in the 2016 PIF Plan Update
  Randy Dettmers; Peter J. Blancher
The 2016 Partners in Flight (PIF) Landbird Conservation Plan presented regional profiles for Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (MBJVs) in the U.S. and for Canadian regions representing MBJVs and amalgamated Bird Conservation Regions. These profiles listed the Continental Species of Importance occurring in each region along with metrics indicating the relative importance of each region to the conservation of those species. Percent of the breeding population (% pop) within a region was approximated using the PIF Population Estimates Database, by summing the % pop across all appropriate state/province-by-BCR polygons matching a region. The winter area importance was based on a species’ proportional occurrence on eBird check-lists within a region relative to other regions. For more than half of the Watch List species, >75% of the breeding population occurs within only one or two regions. These results indicate the need for focused conservation action within a small number of regions for many landbirds of high conservation concern. However, the responsibility for breeding ground conservation for about one-quarter of the Yellow Watch List species and about 60% of the Common Birds in Steep Decline is shared among 4 or more regions, indicating that for these sets of species, broad collaboration among partners across many regions is needed. Focused breeding season attention within a few regions is more commonly needed for species associated within aridlands, western grasslands, and coastal habitats, while broad, collaborative conservation across many regions is more commonly needed for eastern forest birds and generalists. For most Watch List species with wintering populations in the U.S. and Canada, between one to three regions were identified as having the highest winter importance for each species. With these assessments, PIF has provided a solid basis for identifying the regions where attention is most needed for the conservation of Continental Species of Importance.
09:50AM Break
12:50PM PIF and Joint Venture Integration: A Capacity Gap Analysis Plan
  James Giocomo; Jane Fitgerald; Robert Ford; Daniel Casey
Migratory Bird Joint Ventures have been a widely accepted model for collaborative bird conservation since their inception in the late 1980s. Joint Ventures are self-directed, science based regional partnerships that work to conserve habitat for birds, other wildlife, and people. Since the early 2000’s, Joint Ventures have accepted responsibility for implementing other national and international bird conservation plans, which now include the 2016 Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan. Our objective was to identify critical applied conservation needs and gaps in capacity that create obstacles for Joint Ventures in that regard, using a two-pronged, rapid assessment as a first step. First, each Joint Venture ranked their level of activity in planning, implementation, and evaluation for each Watch List species that occurs in their geography. Second, the Partners in Flight coordinator held a meeting with each Joint Venture to explore further needs using the Strategic Habitat Conservation paradigm as a framework. Preliminary results indicate that the extent of work within and across Joint Venture geographies in broad habitats for Watch List varies widely. Many species with high urgency scores are associated with grasslands, and are now the subject of coordinated, multiple Joint Venture planning efforts throughout the Great Plains. For other birds, however, such as western forest-affiliated species, minimal planning and implementation via Joint Ventures is underway. Generally, for many species across all habitats, conservation needs exceed our current ability to quantify species-habitat relationships, deliver habitat conservation at biologically-appropriate scales, and evaluate population scale response. The primary obstacles to overcome include the lack of capacity and resources to implement the full scale of conservation needs in many terrestrial habitats. This rapid assessment provides insight into a long-term collaboration for strategically filling critical needs and gaps for Partners in Flight objectives to be delivered through Joint Ventures.
1:10PM Single Species Working Groups: Maximizing Impact
  Ron Rohrbaugh; Doug Gross
For at least the past two decades, the wildlife conservation community has used single species working groups to focus planning, implementation, and evaluation on imperiled species. The working groups are typically composed of stakeholders from NGOs, agencies, and academia with expertise in science, communications, and conservation implementation. Working groups have been increasingly focused on a species’ full annual cycle, which often necessitates an international approach and partners from outside the United States. Single species working groups have proven to be effective in the eastern U.S., especially with species like the Golden-winged Warbler, but they also have a number of drawbacks that create misperceptions and limit capacity for conservation. As a case study, here, we examine the history, ecological overlaps, and efficacy of working groups focused on Wood Thrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Canada Warbler; and make suggestions for new approaches that retain the appeal and simplicity of a single species approach, but ameliorate the drawbacks that limit capacity and implementation.
1:30PM Improving Monitoring to Inform Management and Policy: A 52 Year Perspective From the North American Breeding Bird Survey
  John R. Sauer; William A. Link; Daniel K. Niven
The North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) provides population change information for ~548 bird species. BBS results are used in conservation activities such as species prioritization, harvest management for game birds, assessing allowable take, and integrated population models. The BBS is also the primary data source for studies that model distribution and population change associated with environmental changes. The current importance of BBS data for management is a direct consequence of advances in computing over the past half-century. The logistics of the survey, statistical and computational aspects of data management and analysis, and scientific approaches to management have all been transformed by technological change. Exploiting these advances and upgrading BBS management and analysis procedures to accommodate them has been key to keeping the BBS a relevant data source for management. Hierarchical models have both allowed for credible analyses of the survey and provided direct connections to modeling activities needed for management decision making. Recent developments in statistical modeling of BBS data focus on development of model sets and model selection. Defining model sets allows us to explore the value of alternative modeling procedures, and we present results for a comparative analysis of BBS data in which we discriminate among 4 models that differ in year effects parameterization. Finally, we view collaboration with managers to define and implement specific analyses for a particular management questions to be an essential role for the BBS program. BBS analysts have conducted many of these analyses in recent years, including composite state of the birds summaries, regional summaries tailored for specific management questions, and combined analyses of BBS and other datasets that expand scope of inference of the survey.
1:50PM The Use of Bird Focal Species to Conserve, Manage and Steward Private Lands
  Kelly R. VanBeek; Geoffrey R. Geupel
Across the United States, private lands habitat conservation contributes substantially to landbird conservation. More than two thirds of the United States is privately owned land, with 85% of all grasslands being privately owned and 62% of private forest land owned by individuals and family groups. Technical support and financial resources are critical to promote sustainable land practices that benefit both birds and private landowners. Partners in Flight has promoted a focal species approach to aid in strategic habitat planning and evaluation of both technical and financial aspects of conservation actions. Birds selected as focal species represent a range of habitat elements, desired future conditions, and/or are known to inform response to management actions. Bird observational data helps identify problems and opportunities, inventories existing wildlife resources, provides opportunities for analysis and scenario planning, and finally facilitates monitoring and evaluation of conservation planning coincident with adaptive management recommendations. Survey data is gathered in a variety of ways, from standardized, geographically focused protocols by paid professionals to targeted eBird observations by citizen scientists. Private lands conservation, management, and stewardship will continue to drive population trends of many species in declining habitats, and continued collaboration between private landowners and conservation organizations will be critical to keep common birds common and halt the decline of species at risk.
2:10PM Coordinating Bird Monitoring Data across State Lines: State Wildlife Agencies Collaborating Through the Avian Knowledge Network
  Geoffrey Geupel; David Hanni; John Alexander; Colleen Moulton; Aaron Holmes; Sara Schweitzer; Jay Carlisle; Robert Ford
States are collecting data to meet objectives for managing Species of Greatest Conservation Need identified in Wildlife Action Plans. Studies are often initiated within a single state and the data are collected using a variety of protocols and data management solutions. The Avian Knowledge Network is working through Partners in Flight, multi-state agency flyway non-game bird technical committees, federal agencies, and NGOs to develop systems that bring together various types of bird monitoring data (point-count, area search, transect, nest success, and banding) data collected through both professional and citizen science efforts. These data are being uploaded, entered, and accessed through a unified distributed information architecture. Flyways are using this architecture to help coordinate bird monitoring at large spatial scales. Examples include: A Short-eared Owl inventory and monitoring project utilizing citizen-scientists across eight Western States; new high resolution distribution models for 21 species within the range of the Greater Sage Grouse from data from eight different historic datasets collected at nearly 4,000 sites in five states and a proposed coordinated multi-state colonial waterbird surveys across the flyways. With data being coordinated and aggregated across larger scales we are able to develop quantitative decision-support tools that allow current information to be used to overcome bird conservation and natural resource management challenges. The Avian Knowledge Network is also offerings cost-effective tools for improved data management that address significant issues relating to relating to data access and data loss.
2:30PM Refreshment Break
3:20PM The Human Dimensions of Birdwatchers: Insights for Wildlife Managers
  Bennett P. Grooms; Ashley A. Dayer
Social factors influence how and whether birdwatchers participate in conservation and interact with state wildlife agencies. As such, engaging birdwatchers in conservation and recreation depends on an understanding of their thoughts and behaviors. Human dimensions research helps to develop this understanding by using social science to investigate what birdwatchers think and do related to conservation and why. We will share five key insights from the human dimensions literature that wildlife managers can use to better promote the activities and conservation behaviors of birdwatchers.First, we will explore the motivations for birdwatching. Birdwatchers are motivated to conduct pro-environmental behaviors by multiple motives, including intrinsic, extrinsic and hedonic motives. Second, we will review key constraints (e.g., structural, intrapersonal) that hinder birdwatchers’ conservation behaviors. Third, we will examine how preferences and expectations towards funding conservation differ between birdwatchers and other wildlife recreationists. Differences exist among recreation types, with funding preferences and expectations of birdwatchers being unique due to their perceptions of agency bias and dislike of traditional funding paradigms. Fourth, we will examine birdwatchers’ satisfaction in agency representation of their interests and with their recreation experiences. We highlight that birdwatchers are generally dissatisfied with agency representation of their interests. Satisfaction in birdwatching experiences differs depending on recreation specialization, with casual/amateur birdwatchers typically more satisfied in their experiences compared to advanced birdwatchers. Lastly, we will review how trust influences birdwatchers’ views of and interactions with wildlife management agencies. We will close our presentation by providing some suggestions for how these insights can be valuable to the work of wildlife managers and biologists nationwide, as well as how the findings inform further research we are conducting with Virginia wildlife recreationists.
3:40PM Restoring America’s Wildlife Act and Funding for Species of Greatest Conservation Need
  Mark Humpert
State Fish and Wildlife Agencies have unique authorities and responsibilities for managing wildlife, including birds. For more than a century, these agencies have worked with federal land management agencies, private conservation partners and citizens to monitor and conserve birds and their habitats throughout the United States. Successes such as the recovery of wild turkey and wood ducks were made possible in large part through a partnership with the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Restoration program which uses funding from an excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment to support state-based conservation. Although many bird species have benefitted directly or indirectly from this partnership, the nation has lacked a comprehensive funding system to address growing threats to birds. Development of State Wildlife Action Plans in 2005 was a milestone in wildlife conservation. The State and Tribal Wildlife Grants program was the catalyst that led to the development of these plans in every state, territory and the District of Columbia, but this program alone is insufficient to implement the plans. In 2016, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies organized the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources to recommend how to address a growing conservation funding crisis. In 2017, Congress acted on the Panel’s recommendation by introducing the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act which would create a funding mechanism unlike any seen before to conserve the nation’s birds and other wildlife. If the bipartisan Act becomes law, $1.3 billion in new federal funding derived from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters would become available to states and their partners for conservation. Although not the first attempt to secure dedicated and permanent funding, the marriage of business and conservation interests to proactively conserve wildlife opens a new chapter in this effort.
4:00PM Full Life Cycle Bird Distributions: Using Ebird to Identify Areas of Greatest Importance to Migrants in the Non-Breeding Season
  Kenneth V. Rosenberg; Matt Strimas-Mackey; Peter J. Blancher; Cara J. Joos
Conservation strategies for migratory birds requires precise knowledge of distribution and abundance throughout the annual cycle. Especially lacking are data from the migration periods when species seemingly spread out over vast areas, but recent studies have shown individuals to depend on relatively few key stopover sites along their migratory routes. Partners in Flight (PIF) increasingly uses data from eBird, perhaps the world’s largest biodiversity database at >500 million observation records, to assess the relative importance of geographic areas to migratory species throughout the year and identify bottlenecks and areas of concentration during migration. PIF uses raw eBird frequency and relative abundance data to rank area importance and assess jurisdictional responsibilities for all North American birds at state, country, Bird Conservation Region, and Joint Venture scales. Weekly models of predicted abundance produce compelling visualizations of migratory routes, as well as metrics of “use-days” and area-concentration throughout the year. We used predicted abundance during peak migration to prioritize spring and fall stopover regions in the Neotropics for long-distance migratory species; this analysis highlighted the importance of the Santa Marta Mountains of northern Colombia for Gray-cheeked Thrush, Blackburnian Warbler, and Eastern Wood-Pewee in spring and the Caribbean slope of Panama and Costa Rica to multiple species in both spring and fall. eBird is also helping to refine the non-breeding distributions of several poorly known species that overwinter in South America. To make eBird data and products more useful for conservation planning, a set of Science Pages are available at that provide annually updated year-round range maps, weekly occupancy and abundance models, population trend estimates, and habitat associations for > 100 species, and eventually for all Western Hemisphere birds.
4:20PM The Borderlands Avian Data Center: A new tool for bi-national bird conservation.
  Geoffrey R. Geupel; Jennie Duberstein; Emily Clark
The Sonoran Joint Venture (SJV) formed in 1999 as a voluntary bi-national habitat-based partnership dedicated to the conservation of all birds. As a science-based collaboration with over xx partners representing federal and state agencies, scientific organization and universities, conservation and zoological organizations and others, the need to store, share, analyze, and visualize biological data became a high priority. In 2018 the SJV launched the Borderlands Avian Data Center (BADC) as a regional node of the Avian Knowledge Network. The goal of BADC is to provide an online collaboration space to support partnerships for coordinated bird monitoring in the region. Through the node partners work collaboratively to share and access data and tools at multiple scales that support bird and habitat conservation. An example of one of BADC’s tools is PluMA, which consolidates eight disparate datasets from the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico to visualize the projected impacts of different climate change scenarios on birds and habitats across the region. Other tools include online data entry portals for coordinated multi-state bird monitoring programs for PIF ‘red watch list species’ (desert thrashers) and citizen-science based programs to promote surveys of remote areas slated for energy development.
4:40PM Panel Discussion

Organizers: Kelly VanBeek, USFWS, Madison, WI; Terry Rich, Solutions for Bird Conservation, Boise, ID; Bob Ford, USFWS, Falls Church, VA; Geoff Geupel, Point Blue Conservation Science, Petaluma, CA
Supported by: Partners in Flight (PIF)

Location: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland Date: October 9, 2018 Time: 8:10 am - 5:00 pm