Project overview: Study Yosemite’s migratory and resident birds through a long-standing MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) program, train young biologists, and engage visitors in wildlife conservation.

The backstory: According to a study released in 2019, nearly 3 billion birds have vanished from the U.S. and Canada since 1970, with astounding losses among common species, such as warblers, finches and sparrows.

Faced with that staggering statistic, the opportunity to study and protect birds — and to encourage more people to appreciate and advocate for avian life — takes on intense urgency. Birds play vital roles in diverse ecosystems, and their health reflects the health of the broader environment. Studying trends in bird populations can help scientists understand what’s happening to birds now, as well as how birds might be affected by, and protected from, future challenges driven by climate change, habitat loss and other factors.

Yosemite’s venerated bird-research program, one of the longest-running MAPS efforts in North America, marks its 31st year in 2021. Through the park’s MAPS program, which Conservancy donors have supported since 2008, experienced biologists work with early-career scientists to collect data on birds at Gin Flat, Crane Flat, Hodgdon Meadow, White Wolf, Big Meadow and Ackerson Meadow.

The research team carefully captures, observes, tags and releases thousands of individual birds each season. Since launching in 1990, the Yosemite MAPS program has trained dozens of young field biologists, welcomed visiting researchers from other countries, and engaged hundreds of park employees, visitors and students in avian education and citizen science. Park-based MAPS research has resulted in important contributions to ornithology, including seven peer-reviewed publications on topics such as avian longevity, migration and responses to climate change.

This year: In 2021, in addition to studying thousands of individual birds, the Yosemite MAPS team will continue to examine how climate change is affecting birds’ breeding. Initial data shows some birds benefit from hotter and drier conditions, but additional warming, extensive drought and extreme weather could have negative impacts. Researchers will also use MAPS data to inform habitat restoration in Ackerson Meadow, and to analyze the migration patterns of black-headed grosbeaks and hermit warblers. And, if pandemic precautions allow, they’ll conduct educational programs, including hands-on bird-banding demonstrations.

Read more about Yosemite’s avian research in our “Songbird Notes” series of blog posts from 2019 bird-banding volunteer Chris Singfield!

Project partners: Yosemite National Park and the Institute for Bird Populations.

Sarah Stock

Wildlife Biologist, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

“Yosemite's songbird program will celebrate 31 years of monitoring in 2021 — making it the longest-standing MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) effort in North America.”