Marine and terrestrial bird indicators for Puget Sound

A December 2013 report identifies marine and terrestrial bird species for use as indicators within the Puget Sound Partnership's "Vital Signs" for ecosystem health. 

Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra). Photo by Dave Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Black Scoter (Melanitta nigra). Photo by Dave Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Executive Summary

The Puget Sound Partnership (Partnership) was created in 2007 with a mandate to restore the health of Puget Sound by 2020. To assess progress towards an ecologically healthy Puget Sound and spur recovery actions, the Partnership adopted a suite of ecosystem indicators and associated ecosystem recovery targets collectively referred to as the Puget Sound Vital Signs. The portfolio of indicators for the species and food web goal included a Vital Sign for birds. However, the description of the bird Vital Sign, which included marine and terrestrial birds, was ambiguous and in need of refinement. Consequently, we were tasked by the Partnership with developing terrestrial and marine bird indicators for the bird Vital Sign.

We used existing compilations of indicators and screening criteria to rank and refine lists of potential indicators and to provide recommendations for specific indicators and their reporting strategy. We define the geographic scope for our work as the U.S. portion of the Salish Sea (Puget Sound, including the Strait of Juan de Fuca) and associated watersheds (this includes the upland habitats in these watersheds). We emphasize that the bird indicators that we recommend are intended to be coarse-grained, i.e., aimed at the general public and policy makers and easily understood, and are not intended to provide the detailed information necessary to diagnose specific problems, monitor responses of the ecosystem to management actions or assess the causes for the patterns in the data. They are intended to indicate status and trends of marine and terrestrial bird populations that depend on the Puget Sound region, and also provide an integrative and long-term view of the health of Puget Sound. They are not intended as diagnostic indicators of habitat, contaminants or prey, or to track the effectiveness of specific conservation actions.

Because the selection process excluded those species for which there were little or no data, only indicators that met specific criteria (e.g., ongoing monitoring programs, existing trend data) were considered here. Subsequent efforts by the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program will assess the need for additional indicators regardless of the historic information associated with them.

We recommend the following marine bird indicators:

  1. Spring/summer at-sea density trends of pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, and marbled murrelet. These species are highly dependent on the marine environment of, and breed in, Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca.
  2. At-sea abundance trends of scoter species that overwinter in Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. These species are highly dependent on the marine environment of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but do not breed there.

We recommend the following terrestrial bird indicators:

  1. Breeding abundance trends of resident species associated with interior conifer forests, namely golden-crowned kinglet, varied thrush and brown creeper.
  2. Breeding abundance trends of resident synanthropic (human-associated) species, namely American crow, rock pigeon, house sparrow, house finch and European starling.

In addition we recommend methods for reporting annual results and trends.

Download the full report.


Pearson, S.F. and N.J. Hamel. Marine and terrestrial bird indicators for Puget Sound. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Puget Sound Partnership, Olympia, WA, 55pp.