The Rouge River Bird Observatory (RRBO), the only full-time, urban bird research program in the United States, is in danger of extinction.  Recent economic difficulties and budget cuts have depleted RRBO’s funding, which comes strictly from sources external to the University.   A dramatic increase of outside, private funding for RRBO operations is crucial if we are to preserve the program.

RRBO was initiated in 1992 to explore an understudied yet increasingly important conservation issue: the significance of urban natural areas to resident, breeding, and, especially, migrant birds.  RRBO’s location at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, an isolated remnant of natural habitat in a highly industrialized region, provides the perfect setting for this research.

Virtually nothing is known on how migratory birds utilize urban natural areas.  The majority of bird species that nest in the eastern United States travel thousands of miles between their breeding grounds and wintering areas.  Each day during migration they must find safe spots with appropriate resources to stop to rest and refuel.  These sites are critical to the success of migration and ultimately to species survival. The focus of RRBO’s research is the role of urban natural areas as “migratory stopovers” –   a crucial piece of the puzzle as urban areas continue to expand.

Much has been accomplished since 1992.  Among the highlights, RRBO has:

Banded over 20,000 birds of 118 species, and recaptured nearly 5,000 of them.

Compiled a regional bird checklist, complete with status, relative abundance, and dates of occurrence, published as the book The Birds of Southeast Michigan: Dearborn by Cranbrook Institute of Science.

Completed eleven years of winter bird population surveys, providing baseline data on resident birds.  This data can be used, for example, to examine the impacts of West Nile or to track the spread of the exotic Emerald Ash Borer through woodpecker population trends.

Contributed data to over a dozen other research projects throughout North America, including the Birds of North America monograph series.

Published nearly twenty scientific papers or notes resulting from our research.

Organized and coordinated field work in Wayne County for the upcoming Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas II.  RRBO also collects additional data not required by the state project, providing a level of detail not available from published Atlas results.

Trained over 100 bird banders, including many graduate students.

Provided public education via the RRBO web site (; banding demonstrations to school groups, birding organizations, and the public; lectures to community groups; and articles in regional newspapers and national publications, including Birder’s World, Birding, and Bird Watcher’s Digest magazines.

All of this has been accomplished with one full-time staff person, and dozens of dedicated volunteers who put in an average of 1,100 hours of time each year helping RRBO accomplish its research goals.

RRBO is unique not only in its research focus and location, but also because of its longevity.  Research of this nature requires a long-term commitment to data gathering.  Often ecological studies last two or three years – the length of time it takes for a graduate student to complete a thesis.  The importance of projects that go uninterrupted for ten or twenty years cannot be underestimated.  They take into account phenomena such as fluctuating environmental conditions and extended population cycles, and allow for the accumulation of enough data to make biologically and statistically significant conclusions.

RRBO relies heavily on the generous support of many individual donors whose support has helped it become one of the most highly respected bird research centers in the nation; one known for its commitment to conservation through science.   If you would like to support this important work, checks can be sent to:

Rouge River Bird Observatory
Environmental Interpretive Center
University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dearborn, MI 48128

or go to our web page at for more information and a link to online donations.