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.
Bird Conservancy and our partners spent much of 2021 implementing the first phase of a network of bird tracking stations across the Great Plains. It’s been an exhilarating, exhausting and rewarding year installing Motus stations at amazing places across central Flyway. We worked closely many partners, put 18 new Motus stations on the map, planned future sites, and watched as our towers detect tagged birds! The work continues with Motus stations installed throughout the Rocky Mountain West and northern Mexico, coupled with training opportunities for partners and deployment of over 100 radio tags on grassland birds.
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!
Summer camp is a special place. It is a safe place for youth to express themselves, to learn, to make friends and to keep traditions alive. We were gearing up for our busiest camp season to date back in early 2020 when the world was turned upside down and we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic. While we tried to stay optimistic about running our Bird Camps in the summer of 2020, the pandemic had other plans. We were in uncharted territory. How could we possibly run a safe summer camp experience in the middle of a pandemic? With careful planning and many new adjustments to ensure the safety of campers and staff, we had our most successful camp season to date! All of the planning and flexibility paid off as we made it through the entire camp season with zero COVID cases and many happy campers and staff.
Of the shorebirds species that breed in North America, a clear majority migrate to wintering grounds in the temperate and tropical regions of Central and South America. Shorebirds whose breeding and wintering grounds are far apart must replenish their fat reserves during migration. They do this by stopping at a chain of staging areas, such as the Texas Coast, Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas, the Rainwater Basins in Nebraska, and the Prairie Potholes of the Dakota’s. Threats to shorebirds have become more diverse and widespread in recent decades and pose serious conservation challenges. Effective conservation requires a wide-ranging approach to identify and reduce threats throughout the flyway.
Species monitoring is a vital tool for conservation biology. Monitoring provides baseline information that is required for effective design and evaluation of conservation policies and management strategies. Monitoring studies are particularly important for declining species such as the Black Swift. Black Swifts have experienced range-wide population declines in the US and Canada, but the mechanisms underlying population declines are poorly understood. Our proposed monitoring network will provide baseline sampling to precisely estimate abundance, regional population size, and population trend data through time to provide valuable information for this species’ road to recovery.
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?