Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program

Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program

Long Term Resource Monitoring


Analysis of waterbird data from the Upper Mississippi River System


The Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP) is implemented by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the five Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) states (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin), with guidance and overall Program responsibility provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The mission of the LTRMP is to develop a better understanding of the ecology of the UMRS and its resource problems. In addition, the wildlife and habitat goal of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (Refuge) states that habitat management will support diverse and abundant native fish, wildlife, and plants. To manage for diversity and measure the effectiveness of management actions, status and trend information is needed. A wealth of information has been collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the wildlife and fish species of the UMRS. This information, when synthesized and combined with information collected by the LTRMP would provide a more holistic picture of the fish and wildlife status and trends of the UMRS.

One basic problem is our lack of understanding of how and when migratory birds use the river and its habitats throughout the year and how changes in river management might influence bird use of the river. Many waterbird monitoring projects by Refuges have been undertaken or are on-going all along the UMRS. These efforts are typically a coordinated effort involving many partners. Much of the information however has never been combined and synthesized and reported on so that it is easily accessible to river managers and biologists who must develop future waterbird management plans and determine appropriate management actions. The first step in developing a status and trends report on waterbirds was to draw together all the available information on what work that has been done by the Refuge (APE #52 - 2006) and summarized in a report to the LTRMP (Meier 2006). In coordination with the USFWS Biological Monitoring Team, we compiled long-term waterbird monitoring data collected by the Refuge and its cooperators into a database along with other information such as UTM, river mile, acreage of unit, hunted/non-hunted, vegetation/invert data, etc. These data are now ready for analyses and interpretation in terms of status and trends. We propose the development of a status and trends report on waterbirds for FY07. The report will provide an assessment of waterbird status and trends where applicable, how they relate to the state of the ecosystem, and describe future pressures.

Relevance of Research to UMRS/LTRMP:

Three Corps districts, 7 national wildlife refuges, 5 states, and several non-government organizations are interested in maintaining the ecological integrity of the river and its role in providing habitat for declining waterbird populations. Many waterbird monitoring projects by federal and state agencies have been undertaken over the past 20 years or are currently on-going all along the UMRS. Some of these projects are funded as part of the Environmental Management Program. However, much of the data has never been analyzed and the various studies have never been compared with each other as a group to see if additional trends emerge about the value of UMR management efforts to migrating and breeding waterbirds.
The long-term goals of the LTRMP are to understand the system, determine resource trends and impacts, develop management alternatives, manage information, and develop useful products. In addition to evaluating existing datasets, this project will make specific recommendations for a more systemic, prioritized bird monitoring program based on limited and uncertain future funding. Monitoring objectives and study design guidance will be developed in coordination with partner agencies to help collect the most critical information needed to improve restoration and management efforts.:

Examples of existing waterbird datasets

Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge
Great Blue Heron/Great Egret/Double-crested Cormorant colony surveys-nest counts, 1974-2005; productivity, 1994-2005.
Aerial waterfowl surveys, Pools 4-14, Mississippi River-1950's-2005.
Black tern nest monitoring, Blue and Target Lakes, Pool 8, Mississippi River-1998.

Mark Twain Refuge Complex
Two Rivers Refuge-waterfowl surveys, 2000-2005.
Great River Refuge-weekly waterfowl surveys, 1971-1978; 1985-2004.
Marsh/waterbird counts, 1985-1989.

Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources
Colonial waterbird surveys-1950's-2003.
Nest counts for colonies of Black-crowned Night Heron, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Years variable by species.

Illinois Natural History Survey
Average peak abundances in multi-year periods for waterfowl, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, 1948-2000 (fall); 1955-2001 (spring)

**INHS only made summary data available as they are working on manuscripts with the data.


We will review all waterbird data sets obtained during FY06 for content and data collection methods. For those datasets with enough information we will conduct standard analyses appropriate to the data.


Meier, M. S. 2006. Summary report on developing a database for monitoring status and trends of waterbirds on the Upper Mississippi River. Contract report No. 52-2006, LTRMP.

Principal Investigator: Melissa Meier, USGS

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