Purpose | History | Officers | Conference | Meetings | Committees | Procedures
Atlasing Handbook | Contacts | Published Atlases | NORAC home page

Handbook for Atlasing
North American Breeding Birds

Charles R. Smith
New York Atlas Project

The volunteer spirit and enthusiasm represented by breeding bird atlas projects continues to grow and spread worldwide. The idea for this handbook originated at a conference held in San Francisco in August 1987. It is intended to be a summary and guide for methods and procedures to be applied in North American breeding bird atlases. Through following the recommendations offered in the chapters which follow, it is the hope of the North American Ornithological Atlas Committee (NORAC) that a degree of consistency and uniformity among North American atlas efforts will result.

Many states and provinces now have completed the field work for their atlas projects and a few have published their atlases. In New York, the Federation of New York State Bird Clubs has established an endowment fund to provide for the start-up costs of our next atlas, which begins in the year 2000. I think it is important to remember, however, that a published breeding bird atlas is not necessarily the end, but really a means to many ends, one of which is conservation. Those states and provinces that have completed their atlases now have the most comprehensive picture of the distributions of their breeding birds that ever has been compiled. Such information can provide state and provincial wildlife and environmental management agencies with important insights into where rare species occur and where regions of high breeding bird species diversity can be found. With such information, informed conservation action hopefully can be applied in a more effective and efficient manner than might have been possible in the absence of breeding bird atlas information. These and other uses of atlas information should not be overlooked, and the value of atlas information should not be underestimated in landscapes that are increasingly affected by human activities.

The tremendous value of breeding bird atlases only will begin to be realized when each state or province completes their second atlas. At that time, two "snapshots" in time of breeding bird distributions will be available for comparison and conclusions can be reached about the changes in distributions that have occurred. The current cycle of atlas projects in North America witnessed the advent of the PC, which has revolutionized our capacity to manage and manipulate information of all kinds. It is very likely that the next cycle of atlas efforts will see a revolution in the ways in which we collect information in the field and transfer it to computers for storage and analysis. Optically amenable computer forms already are in use by many large scale projects for collecting information and transmitting it directly to computers. It is conceivable that atlas workers at the turn of the century will have hand-held computers for use in the field. Such computers will be useful for collecting and storing information in the field for later transmission to central computing systems, through telephone and microwave relay systems. By communicating with a system of satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above the earth's surface, hand-held computers also may be used to provide future atlasers with very accurate information about latitude and longitude for determining their geographic locations while in the field, rather like the LORAN systems used by ships at sea today. The future of atlasing could be very exciting, indeed!

I am grateful for the contributions made by the authors of the chapters which follow. Without their hard work, no handbook would have been possible. And I am especially grateful to Sally Laughlin and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science for arranging funding for final production and distribution of this booklet. This handbook has been a long time in arriving. For that I take responsibility, along with any errors that may have come into the final version. I sincerely hope it is helpful and that it stimulates and facilitates future breeding bird atlas projects.

Atlasing Handbook contents page

The NORAC website is hosted and maintained by Bird Studies Canada