Southern Colorado Plateau Bird Inventories

Birds are considered to be good indicators of environmental change. Inventories of bird populations not only provide valuable information that can help us to manage bird populations, but can also be helpful in managing other resources as well.


Says Phoebe
Says Phoebes (Sayornis saya) were detected in all six parks that were inventoried.

© Vic Murayama

An important job of the National Park Service (NPS) is to protect and maintain the biological diversity of our national parks. Park managers, planners, and scientists need basic information about the status of species and other resources in parks in order to make resource management decisions, as well as to work effectively with other agencies, the scientific community, and the public for the long-term protection of park ecosystems.

One of the primary goals of the NPS Inventory and Monitoring (I&M) program is to inventory the natural resources in parks and to determine their nature and status. All parks with significant natural resources must complete a set of 12 basic natural resource inventories. Species occurrence and distribution is one of these core inventories, and involves documenting the occurrence of at least 90 percent of the species of vascular plants and vertebrates estimated to occur in parks. This project summary describes the avian inventory project for six Southern Colorado Plateau Network (SCPN) parks: Aztec Ruins NM, El Malpais NM, El Morro NM, Petroglyph NM, Salinas Pueblo Missions NM, and Yucca House NM. The project was funded by the NPS I&M program and managed by SCPN.


Yellow-rumped warbler
The yellow-rumped warbler was found in Aztec Ruins NM, El Malpais NM, and Salinas Pueblo Missions NM.


Natural resource inventories are extensive point-in-time surveys that record the location and/or condition of a biological resource, such as plants and animals, or of abiotic resources, such as air, water, soils, landforms, and climate. Inventories may involve both compiling existing information and acquiring new information that can include presence, class, distribution, and status.

This inventory focused on surveying breeding birds. Variable circular plot point-count surveys using distance estimation, incidental observations, and area search surveys were conducted at each of the six park units. Fieldwork was conducted during the 2001, 2002, and 2003 breeding seasons. Additional surveys were conducted during the non-breeding season to record bird species that used park habitats in winter.

Management Applications

Western yellow-billed cuckoo
The Western yellow-billed cuckoo, listed as threatened in 2014, needs riparian habitat to survive. It was found in Aztec Ruins NM.

© Gary Botello

Knowledge about a park’s avian resources is important for managing them, but it can also be helpful in managing other resources as well. Because birds respond quickly to habitat changes, are influenced by a suite of often subtle factors, and exhibit strong habitat selection, they are considered to be good indicators of environmental change. In addition, many bird species are endangered, threatened, or sensitive species, and the NPS is mandated by federal and/or state regulation to manage and conserve these species. The results of this avian inventory show that each park has its own unique habitats and associated bird communities, and many parks provide resources for several species of conservation concern in the region.


Project report: Johnson M. J., J. A. Holmes, M. A. Stuart, and J. Lynn. 2007. Avian Inventories for Six National Parks in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network. Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/SCPN/NRTR–2007/047. National Park Service, Fort Collins, Colorado.


Prepared by Jean Palumbo, Southern Colorado Plateau Network Inventory and Monitoring Program, 2014.

Last updated: July 22, 2015