Photo Credit: ABMI


Welcome to the bird section of ABMI's Biodiversity Browser. Scroll down the page to learn more about birds and why they are important to monitor. Or click the button below to find out more about individual bird species in Alberta.

Photo Credit: Trevor Jones


Birds are one of the most visible forms of wildlife in Alberta. There are 433 bird species[1] that occur in Alberta, ranging from waterbirds like ducks and geese to birds of prey like owls and falcons to songbirds like chickadees and sparrows.

Facts About Birds

Alberta’s avian diversity is a reflection of the province’s broad range of ecosystems and habitats.

image Photo Credit: Gerald A DeBoer

More than 80% of the Bay-breasted Warbler breeding population in the western hemisphere can be found in the boreal forest. This species is a spruce budworm specialist, increasing in abundance with budworm outbreaks

  • Considered the “bird nursery” of North America, the mosaic of forest and wetland habitat in northern Alberta boreal forests serves as the breeding grounds for millions of birds each year. Some birds, like the Cape May Warbler and Bay-breasted Warbler, are almost entirely reliant on the boreal forest during the breeding season. 
  • The southeast quarter of Alberta is part of the prairie pothole region, otherwise known as the “duck factory” of North America. This is a globally significant breeding area for waterfowl, and several sites have been identified as Important Bird Areas in recognition of the essential habitat provided for bird populations.
  • The prairies are also home to several bird species that are at the northern edge of their breeding range. Species like the Baird’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, and Chestnut-collared Longspur rely on native prairie habitat for nesting and foraging. 
  • The foothills and Rocky Mountains in western Alberta provide habitat for a unique community of birds because not only is this region mountainous, but it is the eastern edge of the breeding range for many North American bird species, such as the Varied Thrush, Clark’s Nutcracker, and Gray-crowned Rosy-finch.
  • There are many familiar bird species—Black-billed Magpie, American Crow, and American Robin to name a few—that are commonly found in human settings such as residential and urban areas, roadsides, and agricultural fields. 

Detecting Birds in Alberta

image Photo Credit: Jillian Zsolt

ARU set up

Autonomous recording units (ARUs) are used by the ABMI to monitor bird species that sing or call to establish territories and attract mates during the spring breeding season. Between 2015 and 2020, over 1,150 hours of audio recordings have been analyzed with 260 bird species detected at sampling locations across the province. ARUs are also used to monitor other vocalizing species, such as amphibians.

Why Monitor Birds

  • Birds are one of the most studied and thus well-understood taxonomic groups, making it easier to validate statistical models using current knowledge, and create models to predict impacts to populations due to different land use practices or stressors in the environment.
  • Birds have been shown to respond both positively and negatively to human disturbances, such as forestry, agriculture, and energy development. As a result, they can be indicators of different land use management practices, such as retention forestry and altered cultivation practices and grazing regimes. Birds are also sensitive to other major human disturbances, including grazing, pesticides, other pollutants, industrial noise, altered disturbance regimes and climate change.   
  • Monitoring federally and provincially listed bird species—e.g. Canada Warbler, Bay-breasted Warblers, Black-throated Green Warbler—can be done directly monitored using autonomous recording units (ARUs) to track changes in their populations.
  • Monitoring migratory landbirds in their breeding habitat can help to distinguish impacts to their populations as a result of disturbances in their breeding range compared to their winter ranges further south.  
image Photo Credit: Wayne Lynch

Old-forest specialists, like the Brown Creeper, respond to changes in the amount and configuration of old forest in the landscape, and are considered indicators of this habitat type. 

Research Spotlight

Towards Improved Methods for Estimating Bird Population Sizes

Purpose: Compare two approaches for estimating population size for birds, and the implications for how we understand population changes over time.



Species associated with open habitat and forest edges, like the Song Sparrow, are well detected along roads.

Photo Credit: Tom Murray



Species associated with forest interior habitat, like the Western Tanager, are under-sampled along roads.

Photo Credit: Wayne Lynch

Population estimates are important to support conservation and management of bird species. There are several ways to estimate the size of bird populations but one popular method uses Breeding Bird Survey data which is collected along roads. There are issues using roadside data to estimate bird population sizes in areas such as the boreal region, which is largely roadless. Therefore, in this project, two methods for estimating bird population sizes were compared: 

  1. Partners in Flight (PIF v 3.0): This method makes adjustments to the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data set—data which is primarily collected along roads—to estimate bird populations.
  2. Pixel based model: Using roadside and off-road data, bird populations were estimated based on mapped predictions of bird abundance incorporating changes in land cover and climate across the landscape. 
Key Findings:
  • Bird population estimates were different when calculated using data collected along roads (PIF method) compared to data collected both along roads and off-roads (PIX method).
  • Some bird species, like the American Crow and Song Sparrow are well detected using roadside surveys. These species are associated with open habitats and forest edges—habitat features associated with roads.
  • Species associated with forest interior habitats, like the Cape May Warbler, Western Tanager) are not adequately sampled along roads, nor are species associated with habitats (e.g. wetlands) not found as often near roads.
  • The differences between the two methods were large enough to change the population ranking for bird species predicted to be most abundant.
  • Methods for improving population estimates were suggested.

For complete results see: Sólymos, P. et al. 2020[2]. This publication is a result of years of collaboration between the ABMI, Boreal Avian Modelling (BAM) project, Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment and Climate Change Canada), and United States Geological Survey.


Lead avian ecologist

Ask the ABMI's Resident Bird Expert

Dr. Elly Knight

Elly is an applied ecologist interested in understanding spatial and temporal variation in avian ecology to inform when and where wildlife conservation efforts will be most effective. Elly has studied various bird species across North America and has particular interest in a group of nocturnal birds called the nightjars.

To find out more about ABMI's bird monitoring program, please email:

Additional Resources and Publications

How do we monitor birds?

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2019. Terrestrial ABMI autonomous recording unit (ARU) and remote camera trap protocols 2019-12-21. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2014. Terrestrial field data collection protocols (abridged version) 2014-03-21. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

How do we identify birds?

Bayne, E., M. Knaggs, and P. Sólymos. How to most effectively use autonomous recording units when data are processed by human listeners. Bioacoustic Unit, Alberta, Canada. Report available at:

Selected publications:

image Photo Credit: Glenn Bartley

The Chestnut-collared Longspur is associated with native prairie habitat in southern Alberta

Ball, J.R., P. Sólymos, F.K.A. Schmiegelow, S. Hache, J. Schieck, and E. Bayne. 2016. Regional habitat needs of a nationally listed species, Canada Warbler (Cardellina canadensis), in Alberta, Canada. Avian Conservation and Ecology 11(2):10.

Leston, L., E. Bayne, E. Dzus, P. Sólymos, T. Moore, D.  Andison, D. Cheyne, and M. Carlson. 2020. Quantifying long-term bird population responses to simulated harvest plans and cumulative effects of disturbance. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 8:252. 

Knight, E.C, P. Sólymos, C. Scott, and E.M. Bayne. 2020. Validation prediction: a flexible protocol to increase efficiency of automated acoustic processing for wildlife research. Ecological Applications, 30: e02140.  

Sólymos, P., J.D. Toms, S.M. Matsuoka, S.G. Cumming, N.K.S. Barker, W.E. Thogmartin, D. Stralberg, A.D. Crosby, F.V. Dénes, S. Haché, C.L. Mahon, F.K.A. Schmiegelow, and E.M. Bayne. 2020. Lessons learned from comparing spatially explicit models and the Partners in Flight approach to estimate population sizes of boreal birds in Alberta, Canada. The Condor 122(2):duaa007. 

Yip, D.A., C.L. Mahon, A.G. MacPhail, and E.M. Bayne. 2021. Automated classification of avian vocal activity using acoustic indices in regional and heterogeneous datasets. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Other Information:

Made in Alberta models help continental bird conservation (2020). Blog available here.

Wildtrax Acoustic Platform Tutorial (2020). Tutorial available here.



Hudon, J.,  R. Klauke, M. Ross Lein, J. Riddell, B. Ritchie, G. Romanchuk and R. Wershler. 2021.Thirteenth report of the Alberta Bird Record Committee. Report available here


Sólymos, P., J.D. Toms, S.M. Matsuoka, S.G. Cumming, N.K.S. Barker, W.E. Thogmartin, D. Stralberg, A.D. Crosby, F.V. Dénes, S. Haché, C.L. Mahon, F.K.A. Schmiegelow, and E.M. Bayne. 2020. Lessons learned from comparing spatially explicit models and the Partners in Flight approach to estimate population sizes of boreal birds in Alberta, Canada. The Condor 122(2):duaa007.

We are grateful for the support of the ABMI's delivery partners.


We would like to acknowledge the organizations and sponsors highlighted below who financially supported the development of this report.