A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Buggy: A GIS Analysis of Farmland Bird Species and Amish Landscapes

Ryan R. Donnelly, Gettysburg College
Louis J. Gorst, Gettysburg College
Jarred A. Jones, Gettysburg College

Environmental Studies Senior Thesis


It is a commonly-held belief that the Amish are ecological stewards of the land on which they live, however little scientific literature confirms this claim. The purpose of this study was to determine if Amish settlements support higher abundance of open-farmland birds than surrounding lands in Pennsylvania. To approach this question, we analyzed the spatial relationship between the 1079 Amish settlements and 33,767 point counts of fifteen farmland bird species using GIS and a Generalized Linear Model. Of the fifteen species, nine were significantly correlated, with eight species having highly significant correlations. Of the significantly correlated species, two species (Horned Lark and Purple Martin) have strongly positive correlations with increasing Amish settlement density, while seven species have negative correlations (Barn Swallow, Bobolink, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow). Contrary to the current paradigm, our results suggest that Amish landscapes are generally unsupportive of open-farmland birds. This study is a stepping stone into the previously unanalyzed field of avian abundance on Amish landscapes, but expressing results with a much higher spatial resolution. Our methodology can be applied to Amish populations in New York and Ohio to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of avian abundance as it relates to Amish settlements. The resolution of our data can also be applied to more fine-scale, localized studies.