News Release

Birds Reveal How Small Mid-Atlantic Parks Have Outsized Protective Punch

Date: February 7, 2017
Contact: Megan Nortrup, 202-339-8314

WASHINGTON – Yellowstone and Yosemite may be the heavyweights when it comes to national parks, but it turns out that some smaller national parks in Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Pennsylvania may punch above their weight when it comes to protecting nature.
Scientists tracking changes in the groups of bird species unique to 17 national parks, found that all but one park had stable or improving bird communities and, by extension, environmental conditions. 

“Birds are a window into how our environment is changing and they're showing us that the parks are working at preserving biodiversity,” said Zach Ladin, scientist and lead author of a recently published article on the topic. National parks in a swath from Valley Forge, Pa., down to Petersburg National Battlefield, Va.,—including all the parks of the Washington, D.C., region—showed this resilience despite the region’s increasing urbanization. For parks, many of which  preserve Civil War battlefields and other historical places, that’s pretty impressive. 

Not surprisingly, bird populations were healthiest where surrounding land was mostly forest. In D.C.-area parks where up to 75 percent of surrounding land is developed, bird population health was somewhat lower. However, these small parks are still providing good habitat for birds of all feathers. 

Authors of the study speculate that part of the reason for these diverse bird populations may be park efforts to manage invasive plants, deer populations and to protect unique habitats. 

The research, by the NPS Inventory & Monitoring program and University of Delaware scientists, used nine years of bird monitoring data from 17 parks. D.C.-area parks in the study are: Antietam National Battlefield, Catoctin Mountain Park, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Monocacy National Battlefield, National Capital Parks - East, Prince William Forest Park, Rock Creek Park and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

The study by Ladin et al., appears in a special feature of the journal Ecosphere, which focused on the National Park Service’s natural resources inventory & monitoring efforts titled, "Science for our National Parks’ Second Century." The special feature celebrates the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service with articles showcasing the breadth and depth of research being conducted in the National Park System. 

Ladin, Z. S., C. D. Higgins, J. P. Schmit, G. Sanders, M. J. Johnson, A. S. Weed, M. R. Marshall, J. P. Campbell, J. A. Comiskey, and W. G. Shriver. 2016. Ecosphere 7(9):e01464. 10.1002/ecs2.1464 


About the National Park Service Inventory & Monitoring Division
The Inventory & Monitoring Division, provides natural resource science to America’s natural national parks. Each year I&M scientists and field crews monitor hundreds of vital signs, such as water quality, animal populations, and plants, in parks across the nation. This health status information helps park managers care for parks, leaving them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. Learn more about I&M at 

Last updated: February 9, 2017