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Photo: NPS

When you’re on a hike or looking up toward the sky in Glacier National Park, you will likely notice a vast array of birds.

With the park being situated along the Continental Divide, several different habitats have emerged that are ideal for birds. More than 260 species can be found throughout the park.

Birds inspire us for many reasons, whether it be for the brilliant colors of their feathers, the songs they sing, or their adept flying abilities. They are also incredibly important to our ecosystems, with many species playing a critical role in the pollination of plants, seed germination, and rodent control.

Because of the important roles they play in the environment, studying bird population trends is a top priority among conservation biologists. In National Parks, MAPS stations are being established to study birds, analyze their reproductive successes, and aid in their conservation. MAPS stands for “Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship” – and there is a real need to have more MAPS stations in National Parks because of the protective status they provide, and our need to better understand factors that could be affecting bird populations.

Keep reading to learn more about the program and the recent implementation of a MAPS station in Glacier National Park, made possible thanks to your donations to the Glacier Conservancy!

Conserving Birds on a Local and Global Level

Established by The Institute for Bird Populations, the MAPS program is a worldwide collaborative effort to aid in the conservation of birds and their habitats through demographic monitoring. MAPS stations are standardized, involving bird mist-netting and banding stations that park staff, volunteers, and interns operate during the breeding season.

The data collected at these MAPS stations help biologists understand:

  1. the root causes of bird population declines or increases,
  2. whether problems are more serious on breeding or non-breeding grounds,
  3. what factors affect trends in different areas,
  4. and the relationships between population changes and weather, climate change, or habitat loss.

For the second year in a row, Glacier National Park is operating their MAPS station with the help of a student intern and volunteers in the community. Your donations to the Glacier Conservancy provide the program with personnel and equipment needs, including the mist nets and banding gear.

The program is a win-win: participants in the program learn all about the natural history and habitat needs of birds that breed in Glacier, while collecting valuable data in the park that can aid in bird conservation on a local, regional, and global level.

Internship Helps With Bird Conservation Program In Glacier

The Glacier Conservancy recently had the opportunity to connect with this summer’s MAPS program intern, Nico Lang, an incoming high school Junior at Columbia Falls High School.

Glacier National Park Conservancy (GNPC): What is the MAPS program? Can you talk a little more about it and the importance of the program?

Nico Lang (NL): The MAPS (Monitoring Avian Production and Survivorship) program is about using standardized techniques to survey birds. The data collected at MAPS stations provides information about bird populations and survivorship. Data is collected using the same techniques in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Understanding bird habitat and survival is important for bird conservation, especially with the threat of climate change.

GNPC: How does the MAPS station work in Glacier National Park?

NL: At Glacier we catch birds using mist nets at ten locations along lower McDonald Creek during the breeding season which is usually May to August. A crew of about 6 people, sometimes more, sometimes less depending on availability of volunteers, come to help us for MAPS days. We all meet a little before sunrise and hike 10 minutes to the site. We set the nets up at all 10 locations and prepare the processing station. Once all the nets are up, a timer is set for 30 minutes. This is the time we wait to check the nets again. If a bird is caught we carefully remove it from the net and take it to processing. At the processing station a small band is attached to the bird’s leg, and then data is recorded such as species, gender, wing cord, age and so on. The process is repeated until noon.

A hand holds a small bird during a research study on wildlife in Glacier National Park

Photo: Nico Lang

A bird is studied and banded during a MAPS day in Glacier National Park.

GNPC: How did you get involved with the program? Can you talk about what your day-to-day at your internship looks like?

NL: I got involved because of my connection to Lisa Bate, the bird biologist for the park. I’ve always enjoyed learning about birds and their behavior, so when this internship presented itself I applied. MAPS days occur every 10 days and start early. I am up earlier than I normally am so I can make it out to the trailhead by 5 am. I am usually back at the trailhead by 1 pm. The morning goes by quickly because we are doing a lot and I am constantly learning something new. There are a few days when I need to take a nap when I get home.

GNPC: Do you have a favorite story from the field so far?

NL: This is a hard question. There are a lot of good memories. Probably my favorite is when a herd of elk walked down the creek right after sunrise. The location of the work site is important for all wildlife and it is great to see other wildlife in the area. And of course, being able to handle and see the birds up close is amazing! I enjoy the opportunity to work with so many dedicated volunteers with very diverse experiences. They have amazing stories to tell!

A researcher holds a small bird while studying birds in Glacier National Park

Photo: Nico Lang

Lisa Bate, wildlife biologist for Glacier National Park, holds a small bird while conducting a MAPS day in the park.

GNPC: How is this internship beneficial to your future career? What skills and experiences do you hope to get out of your work?

NL: I am still in high school and am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. This opportunity is helping me to expand my knowledge of birds and scientific data collection protocols. This internship gives me a unique learning experience while being outside, where I love to be. I’ve learned to work with a crew and a supervisor. And I am learning to appreciate the diverse skills people bring to the job. I think for me this internship is beneficial because it is exposing me to specialists and the activities they do in the field. This internship allows me to see and experience what professionals do in the field that I am interested in pursuing in college.

A bird is banded in part of a research study on birds being conducted in Glacier National Park

Photo: NPS

A bird flies off a researcher's arm during a study about birds in Glacier National Park

Photo: NPS

Seeing Birds In Glacier

Learn more about birds in Glacier, and download this checklist to keep track of your bird sightings during your next visit to the park!

Your Support Makes A Difference

This project and many other critical projects would not be possible without your donations to the Glacier Conservancy.

Learn more about how your support is making other projects possible in Glacier National Park!