About BCN Survey

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BCN Hot Spots

Survey Forms

BCN eBird

Becoming a Bird Monitor
What's Involved?
How do I Monitor?
Detailed Instructions
How do I report my results?
Who do I call for more info?
The Bird Conservation Network has created a set of standardized methods for studying the birds of the Chicago Wilderness region. These methods can serve a variety of research purposes while also allowing birders to participate at three different levels of intensity. The goals of this study are to generate a general picture of bird distribution in the region, to collect data to assist land managers and conservation planners in decision making, and to create a database compatible with other types of habitat data being gathered in the region which can be used by researchers investigating specific ecosystem questions.

We invite birders to participate at different levels:

  • If you have a special interest in a particular site, we encourage you to become a regular monitor at that site and keep a year-round watch on the birds that nest, winter, or migrate through that site.
  • You may help track changes in nesting populations, by conducting point count surveys during the breeding season.
  • You may visit a site -- or sites -- during the nesting season and record numbers and species of birds just as you would on a Christmas Count.
  • All Greater Chicagoland Birders:
    View a list of the BCN Survey Hot Spots for which anyone in the region can enter data. If you do not have the time to become a regular site monitor, learn how you can still contribute your sightings.

The Bird Conservation Network cooperates with forest preserve districts and other land managers in the greater Chicagoland area. The instructions that follow apply in a general way to bird monitoring done in this area, but there may be some differences or additional instructions depending on where your site is located.


What's Involved in Monitoring?
Bird monitors participate in the management of natural areas by providing information to land managers and site stewards about how birds use the site. Having a bird monitor for individual sites ensures that consideration of the possible effects of management activities on birds will be made a part of the planning and management process.

Bird monitors with responsibility for a particular site should:

  • Try to make five or more visits to the site each year.
    At least two of those visits would be during breeding season (June). The others would be spread out to provide a look at the migration seasons and wintering populations.

  • Recognize Illinois birds by sight and sound.
    By general rule, a birder should have about at least three years of experience with field identification of birds in the Illinois area. The BCN Survey is not a good way for beginning birders to sharpen their skills. Birders who are not confident of their identification skills, but still wish to contribute, can apprentice with a more experienced birder by contacting the Bird Conservation Network through Lee Ramsey

  • Start Surveying as close as possible to sunrise.
    During the month of June, sunrise ranges from 5:15 a.m. to 5:19 a.m. Surveys should be completed by 9:00 a.m. at the latest.  Additional evening visits to detect woodcock, whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, snipe, owls, etc., are encouraged at appropriate times of year.  Early start times are less important during the winter and migration seasons, but are very important during the warm summer months when birds are only active near sunrise.

  • Meet with site stewards and do on-site walkthroughs.
    Bird monitors at Volunteer Stewardship Network (VSN) sites will be expected to meet with the site stewards and do on-site walkthroughs with them once per year. Additionally, restoration site monitors need to familiarize themselves with the plant communities occurring on the site, the goals of the restoration activities, and the management schedules.

  • Work with any Land Management Agency in the area
    You may need a permit from the land management agency to conduct your survey, depending upon the site. If you are unsure, contact BCN (see below) to check with the appropriate land management agency before beginning. County volunteers and staff members of forest preserve and conservation districts are coordinating the bird monitoring efforts for many of the counties in our area.


How do I Monitor?
We are collecting data at three levels. Forms are provided to cover each of these different activities, and there are equivalent web forms for direct data entry.

Point Counts:

We can track changes in breeding bird populations over time or make comparisons between sites with similar habitats by conducting point counts. Scientists favor point counts because they are objective, standardized, reputable, and least biased of the methods. They provide us with a comparative index of occurrence, not a complete inventory. Points are laid out at regular intervals along a transect, and the surveyor spends a certain amount of time at each point and records all birds detected during the time period within a specific radius. While it's most important that monitors conduct point counts during the breeding season, they can be continued throughout the year. We hope to collect point count data for all high priority sites chosen by the various land management agencies, and from any site that is of conservation significance to the breeding birds of our region.


Transects are imaginary lines drawn through the site to be surveyed. The surveyor simply follows the transect or transects through the site, recording all birds detected along the way. The surveyor should cover the transect in the same amount of time on each visit. A transect provides a "snapshot", an index of abundance of birds at a site. Transects will be used outside of the nesting season to record the presence of migrating and wintering birds. Transect data will also be collected during the breeding season at important sites that do not have the highest priority; for example, a small preserve with many common breeding birds and a small number of uncommon breeders.

Timed Observations:

Will also accept data collected by simply visiting a site and recording species and numbers, along with the time spent, as birders have traditionally done for Christmas Counts and Spring Counts. Certain sites, particularly "migrant traps", are better suited to this type of reporting, as transects at these sites would often either be very short, or not as useful because of the type and size of the habitat.

When reporting observations to BCN eBird, you will need to choose between two types of timed observations. “Timed observations with area estimate” would be used when you have made a thorough search of the whole site; these require that you give an estimate of the area’s size in acres or hectares. “Timed observations without area estimate” can be used for less intensive site visits and also to record sightings between points while doing a point count.


These instructions apply to point counts and transects.

Please keep disturbance of birds during this sensitive time in their life cycle to an absolute minimum.

We ask that you conduct a minimum of two visits during the first three weeks of June. In order to collect the best breeding bird information, consider also conducting counts at other times of year: late April and Early May, when resident breeders have begun nesting, and early July, when many young are being fed. Surveying should be started as close as possible to sunrise, which during the month of June ranges from 5:15 a.m. to 5:20 a.m. Additional evening visits to detect woodcock, whip-poor-wills, nighthawks, snipe, owls, etc., are encouraged at appropriate times of year.

You may need a permit from the land management agency to conduct your survey, depending upon the site. If you are unsure, check with the appropriate land management agency before beginning (see below).

Transects and points need to be identified by latitude-longitude coordinates. This will allow us to compare your data with landcover data being developed by the state and counties and with monitoring data collected on plants, mammals, herps, butterflies, etc. If your site is not listed as a BCN Survey Hot Spot, please contact Lee Ramsey for more information.

Conducting a point count:

The main innovation of this study is that surveyors can use point counts along a transect, rather than on a grid, during nesting season, although a grid can be used by any who prefer this method. Surveyors conduct point counts with points located at 150-meter intervals along the transect(s). You may determine the length of your stride in advance and pace off the points, or use a measured string or tape measure. Mark each point on the map.

Spend five minutes at each point recording all birds seen or heard. Only count birds detected within a 75 meter radius of your point. Birds detected outside this radius, or while you are moving between the points, will be noted in a separate column on the form and entered as timed observations for that date, so no observations will be discarded. Birds observed flying over (i.e., not actually using the site) should also be reported on the timed observations list. Begin at the first point on one day, and the last one on the next, to maximize the number of birds detected during the hours when birds are most active.

Points for surveying water and marsh birds may be placed at intervals designed to get the best views of the areas being surveyed. They can be more or less than 150 meters apart.

Conducting a transect count:

The easiest way to create transects is to follow existing trails. To minimize edge effects, these trails should tend toward footpaths where possible, as opposed to bike trails or bridle paths. If no trails are available, a transect can be a straight line created by following a compass heading.

Where practical, consult with the agency that owns or manages their site about how to lay out permanent transects. Transects should sample all the habitat types on the site, and it should be possible to cover each transect in three hours at most. Shorter times are preferable, especially during nesting season.

Walk the transect in approximately the same amount of time during each visit. This would normally be approximately one mile per hour. Record species and numbers of all birds seen and heard. Visits are scattered throughout the year but should be more frequent during height of migration. Transects may be used during non-nesting season at those sites that use point counts during the nesting season.


You can keep field notes in any fashion that is comfortable for you. Forms for conducting surveys are available on the BCN Survey page, but you may use whatever method works best for you. Enter data directly at the BCN eBird Website. For more information about entering your data, see the BCN eBird help page.  For those without Internet access, send your reports, on BCN Survey forms, to the Bird Conservation Network office at the address below.  If you have web access, it would be helpful if you volunteer to enter the data of one person who does not. We hope to avoid backlogs of unpublished and therefore unusable data through use of the BCN eBird Website.

Send lat-long coordinates or a copy of your map with the points and transect clearly marked to:

Bird Conservation Network
1718 Sherman Avenue, #210
Evanston, IL 60201


To volunteer to monitor/collect data or for more information contact Lee Ramsey []; or Judy Pollock ] at the BCN office (847-328-4026).

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