The Columbia, Missouri chapter of the Audubon Society — serving Audrain, Boone, Cooper, Howard, Monroe & Randolph Counties

[Spring 2013] ASM/MRBO Missouri Marsh Bird Survey Workshops

Due to wetland habitat loss, populations of marsh bird species have been in serious decline. Missouri has lost over eighty percent of its historic wetlands. Among the most vulnerable species that wetland habitats support are marsh-dwelling birds known as Rails and their close kin: King, Virginia, Black, and Yellow Rails, Sora, and Least and American Bitterns. They are secretive birds that have been difficult to survey in the past. Bird surveys conducted with a standardized protocol, such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) have been unreliable for the secretive marsh birds. Researchers have worked for more than a decade to establish the most effective survey method for marsh birds and have developed the Standardized North American Marsh Bird Monitoring Protocols and the North American Marsh Bird Monitoring Program.

In order to address federal and state conservation information needs on marsh bird distribution and populations, the Missouri River Bird Observatory (MRBO) implemented the national program in Missouri in 2012. MRBO is working with the MDC, NRCS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Joint Ventures, and the Audubon Society of Missouri (ASM) to continue these long-term surveys.

In the drought year of 2012, we surveyed over 200 survey points in wetlands across Missouri. Points were chosen randomly within wetlands throughout the state in order to obtain an unbiased sample and keep tabs on the distribution of birds. Surveys are conducted at each point once during each of three windows: April, May, and June.

The data is being provided to the MDC, NRCS, and USFWS for incorporation into habitat management strategies and, in the case of Virginia Rail and Sora, to provide information supporting harvest limits.

We plan to continue this important task of long-term monitoring through the foreseeable future. Data will provide a starting point for addressing other questions such as, "How do marsh bird species respond to different wetland management techniques and practices?"

Although start-up funding helped Missouri get on board with the program, we will rely heavily on conservation minded people in our community to participate in 2013 and beyond. In theory, Missouri citizens can provide a large volunteer effort, but the future of this program for marsh birds ultimately depends upon the willingness of people to make a commitment to conservation. MRBO Assistant Director Ethan Duke will serve as a coordinator, with assistance from St. Louis-area resident Jean Favara in the 2013 season. The North American Marsh Bird Program was designed to incorporate volunteer involvement and we are confident that it will run well in the hands of the environmental stewardship of Missourians.

The Audubon Society of Missouri (ASM) and regional and state agencies are working with MRBO to provide training workshops for those willing to look for marsh birds at least one day a month for three months. These workshops will be held at regions throughout the state near established survey routes. Participants can expect to learn about marsh bird identification by sight and sound, GPS use, and how to follow the protocol.

What does it take to survey for marsh birds? Ears and eyes! After training, observers conduct two to three surveys of a predetermined route during early mornings or late evenings in April, May and June. As one would guess, these surveys require walking and some observers will need to wade through parts of a marsh. Routes consist of 5 to 10 survey points typically spaced 400 - 800 meters apart and often covering more than a single wetland. The protocol involves the use of audio units to broadcast calls of target species (equipment provided) and the documentation of marsh birds detected at each survey point. For more information on the program, including the 2012 progress report and specific protocol visit

ASM and MRBO will be co-hosting the first workshop, "March Marsh Bird Madness", at Duck Creek Conservation area with field trips Mingo National Wildlife Refuge on March 22nd and 23rd. The flexible program is designed to provide enthusiasts with options of marsh bird survey training or birding. All will be pleasant and enjoyable. Field trips will occur at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, Duck Creek CA, and other premiere area wetlands. Bird conservation enthusiasts will be offered the opportunity to volunteer with the Missouri Marsh Bird Survey Program. For further information and agenda visit

Those wishing to volunteer can receive training there or at a workshop in another part of the state. Training sessions will be held at: Clarence Cannon NWR on April 3rd-4th, at Eagle Bluffs CA on April 10th-11th, at Squaw Creek NWR on April 17th-18th, and at Fleming Park near Kansas City on a date yet to be determined. For more information, please email

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