Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “birds”

National Atlas Biology

UPDATE 10/5/2014 – The National Atlas ceased to be updated as of 9/30/2014. A copy from 9/24/2014 lives on in the Internet Archive.

National Atlas Biology – https://wayback.archive-it.org/4416/20140919123143/http://nationalatlas.gov/biology.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Where are bats found in the United States?
  • Are there forests in Northern Alaska?


The Biology section of the National Atlas actually covers animals as well as plants. Like other sections of the National Atlas, it has overview articles and links to Map Maker samples. The overview articles include information about zebra mussels and africanized honey bees (aka killer bees.)

Clicking on one of the Map Maker samples, such as “Forest Cover Types”, allows you to access a number of other map layers including:

  • Amphibian Distributions (by type)
  • Bat Range (by type)
  • Breeding Bird Survey Routes
  • Butterfly Distributions (overall and by species)
  • Ecoregions
  • Forest Cover Types
  • Invasive species
  • Moth Distribution (overall and by species)
  • Wildland/Urban interface (under National Fire Plan)
  • Vegetation growth (average and peak)
  • Wildlife mortality

Missouri Fish and Wildlife Information System

Missouri Fish and Wildlife Information System – http://mdc7.mdc.mo.gov/applications/mofwis/Mofwis_Summary.aspx?id=0700019

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What fish could I find in a cave in Missouri?
  • What sort of birds could I find in Boone county?
  • What could be found basking on a rock?


Contains information about more than 900 Missouri species. Photographs are included for approximately 75% of the species. Searchable by taxonomic group, common name, scientific name, county, primary habitat association, status, life history or habitat variable.

There are literally dozens of possible habitats to choose from, but in my view some of the ones of possible interest to writers are:

  • Cave – I thought I’d only find bats through this search, but came up with various kinds of fish, salamanders and snails as well.
  • Grassland – native prairie – This search could give you a feel what species roamed the Midwest before European contact and still survive today. These include the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid and the Dusty Hog-Nosed Snake.
  • Transportation/Utility – roads
  • Transportation/Utility – waste
  • Urban – urban non-vegetated – I thought this would be mice and cockroaches and maybe pigeons. At least in Missouri, non-human urban dwellers are more varied.
  • Wetland – wet ditches – If a body got dumped into a ditch, what animals might show up to nibble or crawl on the remains?

Once you do pull up an animal or plant record, you’ll see a basic information profile with a link to a detailed report. For the most part, the detailed report will contain more information than you probably want to know. The exception may the list of citations at the end of each detailed report. For example, the record for the dusty hog-nosed snake has about a dozen citations, including:
Anderson, P. 1965. The Reptiles Of Missouri. Univ. Missouri Press, Columbia, Mo. 330pp.

Johnson, T.R. 2000. The Amphibians And Reptiles Of Missouri, 2nd. Ed. Missouri Dept. Of Conservation. Jefferson City, Mo. 400 Pp.

Daniel, R.E. and B.S. Edmond. 2002. Revised county distribution maps of amphibians and reptiles of Missouri. MO Herp. Assoc. Newsletter 15:16-38.

These types of citations could come in handy if an animal or variation on an animal is important to your story.

U.S. Government Photos and Images

U.S. Government Photos and Images  – https://search.usa.gov/search/images?affiliate=usagov&query=


This page is a clearinghouse for photo libraries across the federal government. In many cases, photos from these libraries can be used freely, but check the photo pages carefully. This site is divided into the following topics:

  • Defense and International Relations
  • Environment, Energy, and Agriculture
  • General Government
  • Health and Nutrition
  • History, Arts, and Culture
  • Money and Taxes
  • Public Safety and Law
  • Science and Technology

Some of the more notable libraries linked from here include:

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