Pilot-Biologists Shrug Off the Cold and Take to the Skies for Mid-winter Surveys

Written by Mark Koneff
Thursday, January 15, 2015

Photo of Mark Koneff.Since 1935, pilot-biologists have been flying the winter skies to count birds. Known as the Mid-winter Survey, this coordinated, federal-state survey of wintering waterfowl provides information about species distribution and abundance. For some species, particularly those that breed in inaccessible regions of the arctic, the Mid-winter Survey provides the primary annual index to species abundance and is used to guide the establishment of hunting regulations.

The Mid-Winter Survey also helps with evaluating and planning habitat conservation efforts under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, supports research projects, guides land acquisition and protection efforts, assesses environmental impacts, and helps in the development of mitigation proposals. The survey starts in early January and is flown by a combination of federal and state personnel across the nation.

While the survey provides a snap-shot of waterfowl distribution and abundance during the winter, its longevity has proved useful in understanding distributional change in relation to climatic and land use changes.

Learn more about USFWS Pilot-Biologists as they fly the skies counting birds during a variety of air surveys!

Looking for eiders downeast. These Islands are off the shore of Maine.

Looking for eiders downeast. These Islands are off the shore of Maine. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS

Great place to spot some Harlequins. These little teal-sized sea ducks make a living in the hostile surf zone along the Maine coast. Tough little buggers.

Great place to spot some Harlequins. These little teal-sized sea ducks make a living in the hostile surf zone along the Maine coast. Tough little buggers. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS

A view of Acadia National Park from the sea.

A view of Acadia National Park from the sea. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS

Egg Rock in the middle of Frenchman Bay offshore of Acadia National Park. The Egg Rock light was established in 1875 and now the light and island are in the possession of the USFWS. The island is managed for nesting seabirds.

Egg Rock in the middle of Frenchman Bay offshore of Acadia National Park. The Egg Rock light was established in 1875 and now the light and island are in the possession of the USFWS. The island is managed for nesting seabirds. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS

In Bath, Maine, morning sea smoke and fog, now dissipated, coated the trees in frost.  Air temperature around -15F.

In Bath, Maine, morning sea smoke and fog, now dissipated, coated the trees in frost. Air temperature around -15F. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS

Why I love Maine!  Owls Head light, seen from a vantage over Muscungus Bay.

Why I love Maine! Owls Head light, seen from a vantage over Muscungus Bay. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS

Light winds and overcast sky combine to create great survey conditions over upper Penobscot Bay in Maine.

Light winds and overcast sky combine to create great survey conditions over upper Penobscot Bay in Maine. Photo by Mark Koneff, US FWS