Modeling avian full annual cycle distribution and population trends with citizen science data

Daniel Fink*, Tom Auer, Alison Johnston, Viviana Ruiz-Gutierrez, Wesley M. Hochachka, Steve Kelling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Information on species' distributions, abundances, and how they change over time is central to the study of the ecology and conservation of animal populations. This information is challenging to obtain at landscape scales across range-wide extents for two main reasons. First, landscape-scale processes that affect populations vary throughout the year and across species' ranges, requiring high-resolution, year-round data across broad, sometimes hemispheric, spatial extents. Second, while citizen science projects can collect data at these resolutions and extents, using these data requires appropriate analysis to address known sources of bias. Here, we present an analytical framework to address these challenges and generate year-round, range-wide distributional information using citizen science data. To illustrate this approach, we apply the framework to Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), a long-distance Neotropical migrant and species of conservation concern, using data from the citizen science project eBird. We estimate occurrence and abundance across a range of spatial scales throughout the annual cycle. Additionally, we generate intra-annual estimates of the range, intra-annual estimates of the associations between species and characteristics of the landscape, and interannual trends in abundance for breeding and non-breeding seasons. The range-wide population trajectories for Wood Thrush show a close correspondence between breeding and non-breeding seasons with steep declines between 2010 and 2013 followed by shallower rates of decline from 2013 to 2016. The breeding season range-wide population trajectory based on the independently collected and analyzed North American Breeding Bird Survey data also shows this pattern. The information provided here fills important knowledge gaps for Wood Thrush, especially during the less studied migration and non-breeding periods. More generally, the modeling framework presented here can be used to accurately capture landscape scale intra- and interannual distributional dynamics for broadly distributed, highly mobile species.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


  • abundance
  • area of occurrence
  • biodiversity monitoring
  • bird distributions
  • bird migration
  • citizen science
  • eBird
  • full annual cycle
  • population trends
  • Wood Thrush


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