By Lea Kopke
BROWN COUNTY – There are almost 3 billion fewer birds in the United States and Canada today than there were 50 years ago.
The Oneida Nation hopes its habitat conservation efforts will lead to a positive impact in area bird populations.
Since 1970, the North American bird population has lost 29% of its breeding adults and 53% of its grassland bird population, according to a Science report published in 2019.
In partnership with the Northeast Wisconsin and Great Lakes Audubon Society chapters, the Oneida Nation began a survey of birds within reservation marshland and wetland areas late last month.
Tony Kuchma, Oneida Nation Wetlands project manager, said the partnership will help in the Nation’s habitat restoration projects.
Kuchma said because his expertise is restoring habitat and its plant communities, and not in the animals that live there, the Audubon Society’s knowledge can be used in future project decisions.
“With Audubon gathering data, they can help me understand who’s living there, and we can maybe collaborate on future projects about how to best manage the land,” he said.
Erin Giese, a senior research specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and president of NEW Audubon, said restoration efforts typically lead to an increase in species populations.
“It’s exciting because it provides habitats for birds, bees, butterflies and animals to use,” Giese said. “Part of restoration work is, it’s always a great idea if possible to monitor plants and animals that use the site since it was restored.”
She was approached by the Great Lakes Audubon office about collaborating on the survey because the Oneida Nation did not have the staff capacity to complete bird surveys on reservation land.
Kuchma said there are about 30 volunteers of varying ages and experience levels involved in the project.
“You’re getting a bunch of like-minded people together who may share different backgrounds,” he said. “There are enrolled Oneida Nation tribal members, and there’s also… non-tribal members who may live within tribal boundaries.”
Giese said the volunteers are organized in groups of three to five, with each group having at least one expert birder who is qualified to conduct surveys.
“The rest are along for the ride,” Giese said. “Some record data, some help with navigation, but all go out together and have a good time.”
Giese said though protocol varies depending on the survey, generally a bird observer stands at a known location and records everything he or she sees or hears in a set number of minutes, doing so a few times over the course of a morning.
This summer, the group is surveying breeding marsh birds, like sandhill cranes and red-winged blackbirds, and breeding grassland birds, like sparrows and meadowlarks.
This fall, the team will survey migratory shore birds and migratory waterfowl.
Giese said the bird monitoring effort’s purpose is twofold.
“One is to collect standardized bird data and the other piece of it is a mutual learning experience,” Giese said. “We have Oneida Nation community members who are a part of the effort and are sharing their culture with everyone.”
Kuchma said the project acts as an exchange of information.
He said the Oneida Nation is gaining data it can use to help better manage wetland and grassland habitats, and the volunteers are learning about Oneida Nation land and restoration projects.
“It’s a small step, but gaining an understanding of each other in whatever way we can, helps get rid of misunderstandings, and it helps build a better understanding of each other,” Kuchma said.