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Around the Quad

Assessing Birds on Public Lands

By Krishna Ramanujan

The State of Birds 2011

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has played a major role in the nation’s first assessment of birds on public land. The research, which was presented in the 2011 State of the Birds report, found that more than 300 bird species have at least half of their U.S. distribution on public lands, highlighting the enormous potential for conservation. Partner organizations and more than 600,000 bird checklists from citizen-science participants also contributed to the analysis, which used high-performance computing techniques.

The United States has about 1,000 bird species, 251 of which are threatened, endangered, or of conservation concern. More than one-third of the country’s lands and all of our oceans are publicly owned.

The report emphasizes the urgent need for increased protection and management by public agencies to prevent extinction of many island species, and to buffer forest and arid land species from urban development and agriculture. It also cites the importance of protecting severely declining ocean bird populations and balancing the demand for resources obtained through logging, mining, and energy extraction with conservation.

“Birds are excellent indicators of the health of the environment, including the human environment,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg ’76, director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab. “The report highlights the tremendous responsibility public agencies have for conserving birds and their habitats.”

Fifteen public and private organizations collaborated on the project, with Cornell Lab staff playing key roles in the scientific analysis and publication. The team generated novel bird distribution maps by combining the Protected Areas Database of the United States with bird observations from, a citizen-science project of the Cornell Lab and National Audubon Society. The Cornell Institute for Computational Sustainability, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and DataONE helped lead the analyses, which required 70,000 hours of supercomputer time on the National Science Foundation’s TeraGrid. To learn more, visit