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Summer 2004
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What's in the Nation's Nest of Bird Data? Architecture Used for National Bird Map Service Registry

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Warbling vireos (pictured below) in the Appalachian Mountains bird conservation region.

John James Audubon, North America's most famous ornithologist, conducted the continent's first recorded bird banding experiment by tying strings around the legs of eastern phoebes; he learned that the birds returned to the very same nesting sites each year. Two hundred years later, bird watching has become a national pastime and an important environmental indicator. Since Audubon's early investigation, the habits of the eastern phoebe, along with thousands of other bird species, have been recorded, categorized, plotted, and mapped. Large caches of bird data are dispersed throughout the country along with population and migratory maps. The National Biological Information Infrastructure's Bird Conservation Node was formed to meet the challenge of making this vast quantity of data available to many people.

The National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) hosts an Internet network that accesses an array of biological and environmental data. The network consists of nodes that serve as entry points for users to access the biological information they need in numerous categories such as botany, fisheries and aquatic resources, reptiles, birds, and much more.

The NBII Bird Conservation Node was created as a collaborative activity between the NBII Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which co-lead and maintain the node. These highly recognized geographic agencies planned the framework for the node to facilitate rapid access to North American bird population and habitat data, which is maintained by a broad coalition of federal, state, and nongovernmental partners in conservation. Node Web site visitors access the data to study birds, access maps, and use data to create new maps, which aid in planning and evaluation of activities involving birds.

Warbling vireo. Photo courtesy Chandler S. Robbins.

The NBII Bird Conservation Node focuses on providing electronic entry to some of the major bird monitoring databases housed in North America. The node initially emphasized delivery of bird monitoring data held by the USGS and USFWS, enabling the creation of the Internet-based Migratory Bird Data Center. The node continues to grow by linking to more and more North American bird data sets and information that are maintained and managed by the node's partners.

People visiting the NBII Bird Conservation Node ( can link to raw data derived from bird monitoring surveys and use it to make new maps. On the site is an Internet mapping application built using Esri's Internet Map Server software, ArcIMS. Many bird monitoring surveys have been conducted over the years, some having been run for more than half a century. The ArcIMS application combines these surveys into understandable spatial representations and makes them accessible to the public. A land manager, who may be interested in setting aside land for conservation, can access the NBII Bird Conservation Node and find data about distribution, abundance, and population trends of different bird species, information needed for comparison of sites. This is useful for prioritizing conservation areas.

NBII is creating a central Map Services Registry, similar to the Geography Network, which was built using Esri's architecture. Internet users looking for geographically referenced biological data and/or map services will benefit from the data contained in this central registry. The Map Services Registry has a map viewer that allows users to see data layers individually or combined with other registry data layers. The service can also be used as a source of data for dynamic access by other map services.

Once a node registers an individual map service within the Map Services Registry, that map service will be available to all other NBII map services. For example, the Internet mapping applications developed by NBII's Central Southwest/Gulf Coast Information Node will be able to use, in real time, layers of information from the NBII Bird Conservation Node without having to duplicate the data at its own site. This open architecture allows users to gather various sources of information from the central repository or from any one of the node mapping applications, thus saving them time and allowing them to see relationships previously unavailable in the Internet environment.

For more information, visit NBII nodes at

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