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The Québec Marsh Monitoring Program

Québec marshes under surveillance!

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence corridor makes up the largest freshwater system on Earth. The biggest threat to this impressive ecosystem is the loss of healthy wetlands. Close to 80% of the area covered by wetlands along the St. Lawrence River at the beginning of European settlement has disappeared. Sadly, remaining wetlands are threatened by pollution, filling, draining, and other human impacts. At the interface between the river and adjacent land, marshes play an essential role: they help control floods, erosion, and water quality; they absorb excess nutrients; and they provide habitat for many species, including birds.

Habitat loss and degradation are two of the main factors affecting species recognized by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). About a third of endangered species in Canada live within or near wetlands, and about half of endangered bird species need wetlands to breed.

Bird and amphibian species are used as bio-indicators for overall marsh health. Unfortunately, knowledge of marsh birds has been somewhat limited because of their secretive behaviour and their association with dense emergent plant habitats. In 1995, Bird Studies Canada and its collaborators launched the Marsh Monitoring Program (MMP) in the Great Lakes basin. The program expanded to Québec in 2004 and volunteers have been conducting bird surveys in Québec marshes ever since.

Who are the participants and what do they do?

Everyone who is interested in birds - from the amateur naturalist to the professional biologist - is invited to contribute to the conservation of marshes and marsh species. Surveys are conducted in spring and early summer. Participants can choose their own route or survey a marsh assigned by Bird Studies Canada staff.

Training kit, instructions, and required skills

Each participant receives a training kit which includes:

- Instructions for conducting bird surveys and describing habitat conditions
- A training CD which includes the songs of the species most likely to be observed in or near marshes
- A broadcast CD, to be used during surveys
- The annual newsletter presenting MMP results

Without being experts in ornithology, participants must be able to identify by sight and sound about 50 bird species commonly found in marshes. The training CD is designed to refresh the observer's memory and to give additional identification tips.

How much time should be invested in the surveys?

The MMP is a fun program that takes approximately 10 hours a season. Once a marsh has been chosen, participants read the instructions, put up stations, conduct the surveys, and report on their findings. Many volunteers develop a personal interest in their route and choose to survey it for multiple years.

How are surveys conducted?

Before the surveys are conducted, each route needs to be established. A route consists of one to eight semi-circular survey stations inside a same marsh. Very small marshes may have only one or two stations. Stations are often set up at the edge of the marsh, on a dike, or along a trail. At each stop, all birds seen and heard inside the station during a 15-minute period are counted. Each station is surveyed twice between May 27 and July 12. At least 10 days must separate the surveys. All stations must be visited during a single evening. Favourable weather conditions are preferred for surveying (strong winds and rain should be avoided).

The marshes need your help! To register or to receive more information, contact us at the following address:

Andrew Coughlan
Québec Program Manager
Bird Studies Canada
801-1550, avenue d'Estimauville
Québec (Québec) G1J 0C3
1-866-518-0212 or 418-649-6062



This project was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada.
Ce projet a été réalisé avec l'appui financier du gouvernement du Canada.

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