Northern Research Station News Releases

Partnership Behind Longest Study of Great Lakes Region Birds Honored

Baltimore Oriole, photo by Larry Sirvio used with permission. Newtown Square, PA, March 9, 2017 - A research partnership among two universities, two federal agencies and several hundred volunteers that spanned three decades was honored on Wednesday evening at the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Spokane, Washington.

The Western Great Lakes National Forest Bird Monitoring Group received both a U.S. Forest Service 2017 Wings Across the Americas Research Partnership Award as well as a Partners in Flight Investigations Award.

The partnership, which was led by Gerald Niemi of the University of Minnesota–Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute and Robert Howe of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, culminated in a study published in 2016 by the U.S. Forest Service as General Technical Report NRS-159, “Analysis of Long-term Forest Bird Monitoring Data from National Forests of the Western Great Lakes Region.”

“This was an unprecedented effort to inventory birds in the western Great Lakes region and analyze changes in bird populations,” said Brian Sturtevant, a research ecologist with the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Rhinelander, Wis., and a member of the Western Great Lakes National Forest Bird Monitoring Group. “The commitment of the partners over the course of 30 years, and particularly of the volunteers, some of whom volunteered each year of the study, has been remarkable.”

Monitoring of bird species began in the early 1990s in response to increased forest harvesting in Minnesota and Wisconsin. “In the early 1990s we knew little about trends for most forest birds,” Niemi said. “The monitoring program has greatly improved our knowledge of their trends and ecology and has resulted in improved management for many of these species. The challenge ahead is to continue to measure the pulse of Great Lakes bird species trends, plus identify causes and suitable conservation actions for the declining species.”

Over the course of 30 years, researchers and volunteers monitored bird populations in national forests of the western Great Lakes region, including the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin and the Chippewa National Forest and Superior National Forest in Minnesota. Researchers found that while most forest bird communities in the region are doing well in terms of both species diversity and species population trends, there were some important exceptions of regional and national significance.

The Nicolet National Forest Bird Survey – one of two major sources of data for the study – began as a grassroots effort in the late 1980s by a local Audubon Society chapter seeking to help inform the development of a U.S. Forest Service national forest management plan, according to Howe. “It evolved into a shining example of citizen science and a constructive partnership involving government biologists, university scientists, students, non-profit conservation organizations, local residents in northern Wisconsin, and dedicated birders from Wisconsin and other states,” he said. “Since its beginning, more than 600 people have participated in the project.”  

In addition to Niemi, Howe and Sturtevant, members of the Western Great Lakes National Forest Bird Monitoring Group include:

Wings Across the Americas awards celebrate and honor excellence in bird, butterfly, bat, and dragonfly conservation. Wings Across the Americas is sponsored by USDA Forest Service programs including the National Forest System, State & Private Forestry, Research & Development and International Programs. Wings Across the Americas works with a wide range of partners in the United States and overseas to conserve habitats and populations of birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies.

Partners in Flight is a network of more than 150 partner organizations throughout the Western Hemisphere engaged in all aspects of landbird conservation, from science, research, planning, and policy development to land management, monitoring, education, and outreach.

The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.


The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.


The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).

Last modified: March 9, 2017