June 12, 2023

By Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association

Susquehanna University is partnering with the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association to record, identify and upload common bird sounds to an interactive map.

Funded by a grant from the Campbell Foundation, the Waterway Health Indicator Program will be conducted in two phases.

In the first phase, MSRK will work with Susquehanna’s Freshwater Research Institute to install BirdNet devices that recognize birds by sound. Data collected from those devices will be used to compare the distribution of bird species to water quality data in an effort to identify patterns between the two. The second phase will use BirdNet units to monitor waterways across the region, using those indicators to help researchers better identify trends in water quality and potential pollution issues.

“This project is a great research opportunity because we often think about how to restore habitats so that the birds will return, rather than learning if a riparian corridor or stream is impaired based on the birds that are present,” said Matt Wilson, director of Susquehanna University’s Freshwater Research Institute. “It’s about as close to literally listening for the canary in the coal mine as we can get.”

Six of the 10 stations currently live are located along Penns Creek, the Susquehanna River in Williamsport, and a tributary to Fishing Creek in Centre County, as well as at the Montour Preserve and Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. To date, the devices have made more than 50,000 detections of over 90 species.

“We are open to partnering with people who have an interest in this sort of work for potential future sites,” said Riverkeeper® John Zaktansky. “At this time, we are using sites that are along waterways that also have existing, easy-to-access electricity and Wi-Fi. Future phases of units will be powered by solar and cell service to allow for more remote access.”

The Waterway Health Indicator Program is a perfect opportunity for “citizen science,” Wilson said. “Anyone with access and permission to place a unit near a stream can learn something about that habitat while contributing to larger questions about stream health.”

More information on the Waterway Health Indicator Program can be found here.

“My hope with the first round of the program is that we can come up with some broad trends and compare and contrast to decide where future sites should be for a more robust dataset,” Wilson said.