Northern Bobwhite quail are an important species in the plains and the eastern United States, known for their characteristic whistle, their habit of gathering in groups (known as coveys) and their white and black faces that peek out through the shrubby habitats they call home. While other game birds fly south for the winter, these short stout birds stay put. Bobwhites are indicators of rangeland health, and their presence often indicates that land managers are taking the health of the land into consideration when implementing agricultural practices. They are a charismatic species, and habitat protection and enhancements that target Bobwhites also benefit numerous other grassland species. Agricultural producers take great pride in the health of their lands, and knowing they have an iconic species like the bobwhite on their land gives them as much joy as it gives us in observing them in the field.
As Thanksgiving is right around the corner, let’s reflect on Wild Turkeys, the habitats they call home, and how we can help conserve them. Wild Turkeys can be found in all of the lower 48 states, but in the early 1900’s this was not the case; turkey populations were nearly depleted due to poaching and habitat loss. Once conservationists began to focus on habitat restoration and reintroduction to areas where turkeys were formerly extirpated, populations began to bounce back. Unfortunately, we are beginning to see a slight decline in Wild Turkey populations again today, and Bird Conservancy is working with private landowners to improve habitat for Wild Turkeys and other forest inhabitants. This Thanksgiving we are thankful for all of the private landowners and partners who have worked with us to improve wildlife habitat!
Drought has been a consistent reality across the Western Slope of Colorado and the arid west for decades. This complex ecological force creates a wide variety of issues for people, habitat, and wildlife. Stewardship biologists at Bird Conservancy work with landowners to increase climate resilience in the face of drought, by implementing a variety of habitat restoration techniques that can better retain moisture on the landscape and promote healthy, native ecosystems. Improving resilience on sagebrush rangelands is difficult due to the arid nature of these environments, but wet meadow restoration and invasive species management for cheatgrass and invasive conifers can be used to increase climate resilience.
Fire is a fact of life in the American West, of that you can be sure. Our forests have long been shaped by fire, and efforts to prevent it have significantly changed forests and often backfired —making wildfires worse. Today, we are correcting course by using a process called forest restoration which uses land management tools to transition forests back to near historic conditions to make forests more resilient to natural disturbances, such as fire, while also providing benefits to people and wildlife.
High-severity fires have occurred for millennia, but historically were isolated to cool, moist forests that burned infrequently. Due to the practice of fire suppression that has become common in modern times, today’s fires are fed by over a century’s worth of accumulated fuel. Further, a warming, drying climate in the American West has dried the fuel, and expanding human development and recreation have increased ignition sources – the proverbial match in the tinderbox. These factors allow high-severity fires to burn indiscriminately across forest types. Projections vary, but all agree that the number of acres burned by these fires that are extreme in both size and intensity – now known as megafires – will increase in coming decades. Let’s take a look at what these modern wildfires mean for wildlife, and birds in particular.
The forests of the American West have long been sculpted by fire. Modern human expansion and land management practices often suppress natural fires, an in the absence of natural fire, forest conditions have been changing. Modern “megafires” are largely a result of these changes. But what were forests like before the “megafire” era? And how can our understanding of historical fire regimes improve our management practices today?
The Private Lands Wildlife Biologist (PLWB) program is a crucial pillar in Bird Conservancy’s three-pronged approach to avian conservation through science, education, and stewardship. Our PLWBs work across the western Great Plains and eastern Rocky Mountains, often in rural and remote communities. Their jobs are complex, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. Recently, several of our current Private Lands Wildlife Biologists (PLWBs) visited with their predecessors to hear their reflections on how working as a PLWB for Bird Conservancy influenced their future career path, capturing insights that to inform our current cohort of biologists and seeking inspiration after all the challenges of working in people-centric conservation during a global pandemic.
The past year of pandemic life has been a struggle for most us in many ways. For a field biologist who truly values time outdoors and in nature, the transition to telework and isolation is particularly impactful. But forced solitude leads to unexpected new perspectives, including a stronger connection to the land, nature, and community.
Ever notice what appear to be small ponds on the grasslands during spring? These are ‘playa lakes’ — temporary wetlands that dot the prairies of the western Great Plains. Playas are shallow depressions lined with clay soil that holds rain water. Healthy playas are a win-win for water conservation and birds. They benefit people by helping replenish groundwater, filtering water and assisting with flood control. They also provide wildlife habitat and important stopover points for migrating birds. Over the years, many playas have become degraded and are disappearing from the landscape. However, with proper restoration and management, playas can return to their full potential.