By D’Arcy Jenish

Why are Carolinian species such as the red-bellied woodpecker and the northern mockingbird moving north of their traditional breeding grounds? Why are grassland species such as the henslow’s sparrow and the loggerhead shrike still in decline despite ongoing recovery efforts? During fieldwork for the atlas of the breeding birds of Ontario 2001-2005, scheduled to be published in September 2007, researchers have made startling discoveries that answer these and other questions. The new atlas will update and improve on the first atlas, which appeared in 1987 and was based on field work conducted between 1981 and 1985. “we’re very excited,” says project coordinator Mike Cadman, a songbird biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). “this book has been a long time in the making.”

That comes as no surprise, given the magnitude of the project. Ontario nature, along with CWS, bird studies Canada, Ontario field ornithologists and the Ontario ministry of natural resources, sponsored the atlas. A small army of volunteers – some 2,400 dedicated birders – conducted the bulk of the field work, logging 150,000 hours searching for evidence of breeding birds.

Nearly 100 people are writing the text for the atlas, says Cadman, most of them scientists, although some contributions are from expert amateurs. They are producing an account of 300 different species, including an assessment of the species’ status, descriptions of its current distribution patterns, how these patterns have changed since the first atlas appeared, and explanations of the species’ breeding biology.

The book will be a hefty work of some 704 pages with full-colour photos and maps throughout. Cadman says it will be of great interest not only to birders, but to research and conservation communities as well. Scientists will also have access to the enormous database used to create the atlas, which will be invaluable as they tackle some intriguing questions, including ones concerning the distribution of certain Carolinian species and the falling population of Ontario’s grassland birds.

To purchase a copy of the atlas, visit Ontario nature’s website