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VABBA2 Season One: A Win for Virginia’s Birds and Citizen Science

By Ashley Peele

An image of a red bellied woodpecker feeding their young which is in a hollow tree

Red-bellied Woodpecker at Nest at New Kent

Temperatures continue to drop, as Autumn arrives and we wrap-up the first season of the second Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (VABBA2).  Two things stand out about this summer’s field season. First, Virginia is an incredible place to survey birds.  Between the mountains and valleys, the rolling Piedmont, and the rich Coastal Plain, Atlas volunteers identified over 205 species of birds and confirmed 174 of those species are currently breeding.  They reported over 684,000 birds to the project!

Click to open VABB2 final summary 2016 as a PDF

Interestingly, most of the data received this year comes from areas where the most people live.  This makes sense!  We tend to bird the areas closest to home first.  However, just think what kind of data will be generated when volunteers expand out into the less birded parts of the state.  There are so many awesome breeding records just waiting to be confirmed in the rural Piedmont or out in the mountains or even in your own neighborhood.

The second remarkable thing about this first season is the volunteer birder community that pitched in from all over VA.  By the end of the summer, over 450 volunteers contributed to the Atlas project and despite most data coming from populated areas, volunteers reported great breeding data from many rural parts of the state.

Everyone experienced some sort of learning curve, whether it was using eBird to report their data or learning the codes to document bird behavior.  Many volunteers are still new birders and learning much as they go along.  However, Atlasers collectively demonstrated that learning these new tools is doable and worthwhile.  This first year would not have been a success without these many dedicated volunteers.  We thank them for all they’ve done to contribute and promote birding for conservation with the VABBA2. 

Exciting new project updates are on the horizon for our next field season.  Cornell has now upgraded eBird mobile and volunteers can enter all field observations for the Atlas (including breeding codes!) with their smartphone!  Additionally, there will be a series of Atlas Training events this Spring, focused on both field and data entry methods.  Stay tuned for these and other field trip or training events in your area.

We’re also looking for project feedback from existing volunteers, as well as those who aren’t yet involved with the project.  Please follow the appropriate link below to complete a quick survey about the project.

Current Atlas volunteer survey: 2016_AtlasVolunteer_Survey

General public survey: 2016_AtlasGeneral_Survey

Use the winter to learn eBird or the project breeding codes or to work on honing your bird ID skills.  Most of all, get pumped for season two in Spring of 2017!  Bird on, Virginia!

Check out the Atlas website ( and eBird page (  Like us on Facebook and send your name and email address to, if you’d like more info on the project.

  • October 27, 2016