As urban development spreads across North America, native migratory bird species face threats not only to breeding habitat but also to the stopover habitat they require to rest and refuel. The Mississippi River Twin Cities Important Bird Area (IBA) covers over 14,000 ha of residential, commercial, and open space along the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and Hastings, Minnesota. Identified as valuable habitat to waterbirds, we know less about how landbirds, especially migrating songbirds, use this habitat. This dissertation explores the process of designing and evaluating a citizen-science monitoring program to evaluate this urban IBA and analysis of the collected data to better understand relationships between urbanization and IBA landbird communities during both spring migration and breeding seasons.
The first main chapter discusses the design and implementation of the Mississippi River Twin Cities IBA Landbird Monitoring Program, a citizen science project that engages local birders in counting the IBA's landbirds. The program's main goals are to (1) inventory landbird species that use the area, (2) determine these birds' use of the area during migration and breeding seasons, (3) use these data to estimate landbird species abundance, and (4) evaluate long-term trends. The second main chapter describes a targeted assessment of three related point-count techniques with the goal of identifying one that maximized species recorded, species detection probabilities, and overall flexibility/ease of use in citizen science. The next main chapter analyzes the program's point count data to investigate the relationships between land cover surrounding urban park study sites in the Mississippi River Twin Cities IBA and the composition of landbird communities present in the IBA during spring migration and summer breeding seasons, and to evaluate this habitat's value to both migrating and breeding landbirds. While species richness, diversity, evenness, and native migrant landbird densities responded negatively to increased impervious cover, the response in landbird community measures was more pronounced during breeding than during migration, suggesting that even lower-quality habitat within the IBA may serve migrating birds. The final main chapter discusses a website that houses the program materials and allows citizen scientists to submit their data online into a quality-controlled database. Conservation of native bird populations will require both breadth and depth of understanding and effort reaching from the continental to the local levels. This study provides a template for the process of developing a small-scale local citizen-science monitoring program, from planning and pilot season, to analysis, reporting, and connection of the program data to a larger coordinated bird monitoring scheme.