History and Purpose


In the early 1990s numerous federal and state resource agencies and conservation organizations began working together to focus more attention on the plight of Neotropical migrant songbirds. Spurred by John Terborgh’s provocative book, Where Have All the Birds Gone?, published in 1989, researchers and resource managers saw the need to broaden traditional resource management beyond its historical focus on game birds and direct more resources to what was commonly referred to as ‘all-bird’ conservation. The partnerships that began more than 30 years ago blossomed into a network of more than 150 organizations now formerly recognized as Partners in Flight, a collaborative dedicated to keeping common birds common and helping species at risk. Although the original focus was on landbirds, similar initiatives soon followed that were focused on waterbirds and shorebirds. Together with a long-standing group of resource managers dedicated to waterfowl management, all four initiatives were embraced under the umbrella of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

In Minnesota, the creation of the Nongame Wildlife Program in 1977 was the initiation of a new effort to devote resources to the conservation of all wildlife species. Many birds, including Peregrine Falcons, Trumpeter Swans, and Eastern Bluebirds were among the initial beneficiaries of such a broadened approach. Launched in 1987, the Minnesota County Biological Survey, now known as the Minnesota Biological Survey, focused even more attention on a county-by-county inventory of rare features, including rare birds, further expanding our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of Minnesota’s avifauna. As important as these efforts were, researchers and resource managers alike recognized that effective conservation depended on an integrated partnership of agencies and conservation organizations combining resources and working together to achieve mutual goals.

To that end, a collaborative of individuals, organizations, and institutions, known collectively as Bird Conservation Minnesota (BCM), was organized in early 2003. Its goal was to improve the delivery of the full-spectrum of bird conservation needs through biologically-driven, landscape-oriented partnerships. Workshops held in October 2003 and April 2004 brought together 60 resource professionals from across the state who prepared an agenda of short-term and long-term goals for the initiative.  Chief among BCM’s long-term goals was to seek funding to conduct a statewide breeding bird atlas. At the time, Minnesota was one of only seven states, and the only state along the Mississippi Flyway, that had not developed an atlas. A third workshop held in February 2007 was designed as a backdrop to launching a statewide atlas and focused specifically on: 1) compiling a catalog of all programs already underway in the state that were engaged in avian inventory and monitoring; 2) sharing information among researchers, managers, and conservation organizations; and 3) planning for increased coordination. A summary of all inventory and monitoring programs underway at the time is provided in this pdf.

Within a few years, Audubon Minnesota, working with a committee of several partnership organizations, successfully secured a major state appropriation from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), to launch the atlas.  With additional generous support provided by Audubon Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, preparatory work began in 2008 and the atlas officially began in 2009. Data collection was completed at the end of the 2013 breeding season.  From the fall of 2013 through the fall of 2017, data collected by nearly 700 volunteers, paid survey staff, and numerous resource organizations was compiled, analyzed and summarized. The results of that work are presented in the pages that follow. A comprehensive list of all those individuals and organizations that contributed to the success of Minnesota’s Breeding Bird Atlas can be found under “Project Partners”, “Project Personnnel” and “Volunteers”.


A breeding bird atlas is a comprehensive, systematic field survey of the occurrence and breeding status of breeding birds, conducted by citizen scientists during a limited time period. Hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand volunteers, both professional and amateur, watch and record breeding evidence for birds in selected survey areas. The data collected by these volunteer surveyors provide the information used to create maps that describe which species breed in the state and where in the state they breed. Although the project lasts from 5-6 years, it is still considered a ‘snap-shot’ in time because it is conducted during a limited number of breeding seasons and it is not based on historical information.

A state Breeding Bird Atlas is comprehensive because it includes survey areas throughout the entire state and includes information on all species found in the state. The Atlas is systematic because critical survey areas, referred to as Priority Blocks, are randomly selected based on a geographic grid system. All Priority Blocks are about the same size (21-26 km2) and are chosen independent of the habitat present within the block or any other characteristic that could bias the results. Different grid systems have been used by states to define their blocks including DeLorme map pages, U.S.G.S. topographic maps, or the U.S. Public Land Survey System.

Although the emphasis is on finding breeding evidence for as many species as possible in every Priority Block, Atlas projects may collect additional data including information about a species’ abundance and habitat requirements. For special, usually rare species, more detailed information about the sighting is often requested.

Details on the field survey protocols for Minnesota’s Breeding Bird Atlas can be found under “Data and Methods: Data Collection”.