Excerpts From The Book

Idaho Bird Distribution, Mapping by Latilong

By Dan A. Stephens and Shirley H. Sturts. 1998 edition published by Idaho Museum of Natural History and the Non-game and Endangered Wildlife Program of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game


Dr. Palmer David Skaar pioneered the concept of latilong mapping in regional biogeographical studies (Skaar 1969, 1980). P.D. Skaar’s Montana Bird Distribution, now in its fifth edition (Ellis, et al. 1996), is the exemplary state latilong bird distribution study. The Montana Bird Distribution study was a catalyst for the Idaho Bird Distribution study.

Robert Kuntz and John Doremus (Bureau of Land Management, Boise District) initiated the Idaho Bird Distribution Latilong Study in 1980. They collected bird records and compiled data from Thomas D. Burleigh’s Birds of Idaho onto 3×5 cards. Kuntz left Idaho in 1983 to take a position with the National Park Service in Washington state, and the project stalled. The study was restarted, with the support of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, by Dan Stephens and Shirley H. Sturts in 1988. The first edition of Idaho Bird Distribution was published in 1991 with the support of the Idaho Museum of Natural History and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (Stephens and Sturts 1991). This publication represented the first major work on Idaho birds since the 1972 publication of Birds of Idaho (Burleigh 1972).

The computer database of Shirley H. Sturts served as the stimulus for the development of the Idaho Bird Distribution Database. The data compiled by Juntz and Doremus, thousands of records from birders, data from government reports and other publications, as well as Breeding Bird Survey records were entered into the database. The database currently contains about 38,000 individual birds records. It is presently being fine-tuned by the authors, and will be accessible to those interested sometime in 1998.

This publication was made possible by the hundreds of people who took the time to record their bird sightings and report them. These people not only enjoy the beauty and diversity of Idaho’s birds, but also realize that bird conservation depends on such basic knowledge. The authors are proud to play a role in furthering the understanding of Idaho’s birds, and hope this will help preserve Idaho’s natural heritage for future generations.


Latilongs are the rectangular areas between adjacent meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude. The average dimensions of each latilong are 47 miles (76km) wide and 69 miles (111 km) long, resulting in an average area of 3200 square miles (8436 sq. km).

A major advantage of using latilongs in biogeographic studies is that they are unchanging units based on a global system. This allows for long-term studies and conformity of national and international scope. The Breeding Bird Survey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is based on latilong grids across North America. Latilong maps allow distribution patterns to be presented in concise and easily readable form. Latilongs are readily identifiable on most maps. The use of latilong mapping in biogeographical studies is increasing worldwide.

Drawbacks to using latilong mapping include the fact that they vary in size from north to south, with about a 1.3% increase per latilong as they get closer to the equator. Furthermore, state boundaries do not always conform to meridians and parallels. This results in latilongs much smaller than 3200 square miles, effecting several of Idaho’s latilongs. Finally, latilongs are quite large resulting in a scale too course for small geographic areas.

The Idaho bird distribution study uses the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services system to identify and number Idaho’s latilongs. Twenty-eight latilongs are assigned to Idaho and are numbered from 1, along the Canadian boarder, to 28 in the southeast corner of the state (map at right). Officially these are numbered 33001 to 33028 using the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service system. Again, we simply use 1 to 28…

Latilongs 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, 15, & 16 include significant area outside the Idaho state boundaries; only the portion of the latilong within the state boundary is considered for this project. On the other hand, note that a small area of Idaho west of latilong 11 is found in the Baker, Oregon latilong. This area is northwest of Weiser and includes the Olds Ferry and Mineral areas. Records from this area are included in Idaho latilong 11 for the maps, but are marked as technically occurring in the Baker, Oregon latilong in the database.

Occurrence by Latilong

A total of 376 species are included in this study, for more information on this see the Statewide Status and Evaluation of Records sections. The latilong with the most species recorded is 17 (Boise) with 313, while the latilong with the fewest is 3 (Wallace) with 103.Twenty-eight species have been seen in all 28 latilongs. Many species have been seen in all but one or two latilongs. This is generally due to inadequate coverage (e.g. latilong 15), small latilong size and limited access (e.g. latilong 3), or low habitat diversity (e.g. latilong 5). The total number of species in each latilong is summarized in this latilong map of Idaho:

Breeding by Latilong

A total of 252 species are confirmed or probable breeders in Idaho (B” or b”). A total of 239 species are confirmed breeders in Idaho. The thirteen species which are probable but not confirmed breeders are: Horned Grebe, Green Heron, Snowy Plover, Common Tern, Black-billed Cuckoo, Least Flycatcher, Purple Martin, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting, Clay-colored Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Several of these species are very likely regular breeders, or occasional breeders in the state. Birders are encouraged to pay special attention to breeding evidence when these species are seen in breeding habitat. The breeding distribution totals (“B” or “b”) for each latilong are summarized in this latilong map:

Statewide Status

The statewide status of each species is indicated by the symbols immediately to the right of its common name. A species whose presence is documented by a specimen or photograph known to be in existence at the present time is classified as “S”. A species supported by a specimen or photograph not currently located is given an “s”. A species whose presence is supported by a verified sight record only is given a “-”. The number of records for each species follows the status. A species whose presence is supported by numerous records (more than 20) is classified as an “N”. A species supported by fewer than 20 records shows the number of records for that species currently in the database. All species with less than 20 records are annotated below the binomial. Annotations also appear under selected species when needed to clarify their current population status, or other point of interest. These annotations are referenced when they come from the published literature, an ornithological collection, or the Idaho Bird Records Committee. Abbreviations used are: AB = American Birds, AFN = Audubon Field Notes, BBS = Breeding Bird Survey, Burleigh = BIRDS OF IDAHO, CM = Connor Museum (Washington State University), IMNH = Idaho Museum of Natural History (Idaho State University), MU = Murrelet, and WB = Western Birds. Unreferenced records were reported directly to the authors and deemed valid.

Sources of Information

The primary source of historical information for this study was Thomas D. Burleigh’s BIRDS OF IDAHO (1972): Caxton Printers, Ltd. Caldwell, Idaho. This was the first major scientific treatment of Idaho’s birds. Although spotty in his coverage of the state, Burleigh’s work is excellent because of his review of historical records, attention to the location of sightings, and collection of specimens. This book is now out-of-print, but may be available through used book stores, especially those online, such as Amazon.com. Species regarded as “breeding” by Burleigh were given a “b” designation unless evidence of confirmed breeding was specifically mentioned.

The following journals were reviewed for Idaho bird records: American birds, Audubon Field Notes, Auk, Condor, Murrelet, Northwestern Naturalist, Northwest Science Proceedings of the Idaho Academy of Sciences, Tebiwa, Western Birds, and Wilson Bulletin.

The ornithological collections of the Idaho Museum of Natural History (at Idaho State University), The University of Idaho, and the Connor Museum of Natural History (at Washington State University) were valuable sources of information. Numerous unpublished reports from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (including the Breeding Bird Survey) were reviewed. The Idaho Conservation Data Center provided their database and expertise.

Perhaps the most valuable source of information came from the hundreds of observers who submitted thousands of records directly to the authors. Drafts of the first edition were sent to birders across the state for review, and hundreds of Documentation for Latilong Status Change forms were sent to the Department of Fish and Game between 1991 and 1997.

The authors encourage birders to look for gaps in the latilong maps of their areas, complete Status Change forms and send them in. 

Pages from a well-used copy owned by a birder who mailed in many Latilong Changes:


The authors would like to thank the hundreds of individuals who reported their bird sightings to American Birds, Audubon Field Notes, The Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and other publications. Contributors to the first edition are greatly appreciated and can be found listed in that publication. Contributors of bird records to the second edition are greatly appreciated. They are: Jim Acton, Frank Andrews, John Ash, Jane Badraun, Larry Barnes, Marlee Benson, Tom Besser, Karna Borders, Stephen Bouffard, Craig Brengle, Kris & Ed Buchler, Janet Callen, Cliff Cameron, Corrine & Del Cameron, Francis Cassirer, Bruce Cergle, Nancy Cergle, Earl Chapin, Gordon and Pam Comrie, Denny, Debbie & Mackenzie Dawes, Rich Del Carlo, Adam Dirschell, John Doremus, Jon Dudley, Kas & Debbie Dumroese, Barbara Durrell, Terence Edwards, Diane Evans, Elise Faike, John Gatchet, Dale Goble, Pam Gontz, Sharon Gould, Julie Grauphenn, Bill Gundlach, Steve Guthrie, Luccinida Haggas, Brad Hammond, Gertie Hanson, Jerry & Sharon Hanson, Fran & Brad Haywood, Winifred Hepburn, John & Marty Hirth, David & Diane Holick, Ned Horner, Jay Howe, Don Johnson, Tommy Johnson, Ron Jurcevich, Wallace Keck, Don Kemner, Lisa Kirschoffer, Cynthia & Rick Langlitz, Louise & George LaVoi, Thomas Maeder, Mary Manning, Jeff Marks, John McClain, Jack McNeel, David Mead, Nancy Mertz, John Miller, Kathleen Milne, Bob Moate Jr., Jean Monks, Steve Munson, George & Helen Oatman, Susan Patla, Rob Pearson, Theresa Potts, Dave Pratt, Jimmie Reynolds, Penny Ridenour, Sharon Ritter, Hadley Roberts, Scott Robinson, Vicki Saab, George Saylor, Ellen Scriven, Herb & Jan Severtson, Maria Shephard, Johns Shipley, Paul Sieracki, Rhea Smith, Don Stoeker, Lee Streltz, Dan Svingen, Colleen Sweeney, Joe Taggert, J. Allen Tarter, Dan Taylor, Jenny Taylor, Mike Todd, David Trochlell, Charles Trost, Jack Trotter, Carole & Hand Vande Vorde, Phil & Judy Waring, Jennifer Welch, Paul Wheeler, Philis WIcks, Mindy Wiebush, Philip Wright, Tony Wright, Roger Young, C. Fred Zeilmaker.

Special thanks go to the Idaho Bird Records Committee, especially its secretary Dr. Charles Trost. Members include: Hadley Roberts (Salmon), Brad Hammond (Idaho Falls), Dan Svingen (Grangeville), Colleen Sweeney (Boise), as well as the two authors [Daniel Stephens (Wenatchee, WA) and Shirley Sturts (Coeur d’Alene)].

Support from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game was vital; special thanks to Patrick Cole, John Nigh, Charles Harris, Pam Petterson, George Stephens, and Wayne Melquist. Dr. Allen Jackson director of the Idaho Museum of Natural History was instrumental in publishing this work [in book form]. Dan Svingen, regional editor of Audubon Field Notes, supplied valuable advice and data.

Special thanks to Zoltan Porga for generously sharing his bird observation records from Latilongs 4 and 2. He keeps detailed, extensive records and has regularly sent them to Shirley Sturts from 1982 to present.

Thanks to Merlene Koliner and Canyon Birders of the Lewiston area. Thanks to Susan Weller state coordinator of the Breeding Bird Survey, and to all the BBS volunteer observers. Thanks to all the Idaho Christmas Bird County compilers and the CBC volunteer observers. Finally, special thanks to Keith Sturts for his continued assistance with the database.


American Ornithologists’ Union. 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Lawrence, KS. 877 pp.

AOU 1985. Thirty-fifth supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 102:680-686.

AOU. 1987. Thirty-sixth supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 104:591-596.

AOU. 1989. Thirty-seventh supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 106: 532-538.

AOU. 1991. Thirty-eigth supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 108:750-754.

AOU 1993. Thirty-ninth supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 110:675-682.

AOU 1995. Fortieth supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 112:819-830.

AOU 1997. Forty-first supplement to the AOU Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 114:542-552.

Burleigh, T.D. 1972. Birds of Idaho. Caxton Printers, Ltd. Caldwell, Idaho. 467 pp.

Ellis, J., C. Jones, D. Genter, J. Reichel, B. Spettigue, D. Sullivan. 1996. P.D. Skaar’s Montana Bird Distribution, fifth edition. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, Special Publication No. 3. 129 pp.

Paulson, D. 1993. Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. 406 pp.

Skaar, D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman Latilong. Published by the author, Bozeman.

Skaar, D. 1980. Montana Bird Distribution. Published by the author, Bozeman.

Stephens, D.A. and S.H. Sturts. 1991. Idaho Bird Distribution: Mapping by Latilong. Special Publication No. 11, Idaho Museum of Natural History, Pocatello. 76 pp.

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