We had a banner year at our banding station at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. 2020 proved to be our busiest season there to date. We set new highs for total banded birds and added several new species that had never been banded there before. All of this was while simultaneously adapting to meet health and safety guidelines that enabled visitors to experience bird banding firsthand in a safe way.
Each summer, migratory birds like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher fly thousands of miles between their summer breeding grounds and wintering locations. An impressive feat under any circumstances, 2020’s fall migration brought particularly difficult challenges including record-breaking wildfires, air pollution, and extreme temperature and weather events. Sadly, many of these little international travelers did not survive.
The cultural heritage of those that tend the land and call it home—from ranchers to Indigenous Peoples to ejidos—is closely tied to the fate of grasslands. Rural communities and economies depend on healthy grasslands and the services they provide which include aquifer recharge, productive rangelands, outdoor recreation and more. Despite their importance, the plight of grasslands has been largely overlooked, but a new initiative has launched which aims to chart a better future for this precious resource.
The Chihuahuan Desert population of Northern Aplomado Falcon shrunk dramatically a century ago and was lost from the southwestern U.S. A tiny population survived in Mexico, but its continued survival is tenuous due to habitat loss and other factors. A tri-national partnership is monitoring this population’s breeding success and conducting a demographic study that includes satellite telemetry of juvenile falcons. What we are learning is guiding conservation and helping gain support from private landowners on the ground. The recent appearance of a young male falcon in New Mexico fosters hope that the Northern Aplomado Falcon might even be able to someday recolonize the Southwestern U.S.
Forest management has evolved rapidly over the last two decades as land managers strive to find a balance between wildlife habitat needs, resource utilization, fire mitigation, and resilience to climate change. Using birds as indicators, Bird Conservancy and partners explored the impacts of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and how modern forest management approaches are shaping avian biodiversity in treated landscapes.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Bird Banding Laboratory, the federal agency responsible for overseeing all bird banding efforts in the United States and Canada. Here we’ll take a look at why banding is such a powerful tool for research while highlighting a few of our projects that put banding to use. With the fall banding season rapidly approaching, its a good time to reexamine what makes a bird in the hand so valuable.
Recent extensive bark beetle outbreaks have raised concerns about the health of western conifer forests and their capacity to support wildlife species. These tiny bugs bring big changes, transforming forests and re-shaping landscape ecology in extreme ways and on a grand scale. We surveyed birds in Colorado, gathering data to compare unimpacted forests with those following a beetle outbreak. What we found may surprise you!
Little is known about grassland birds during migration. Automated radio telemetry through the Motus Wildlife Tracking System can help us understand bird movement during this part of their life cycle. Bird Conservancy of the Rockies is implementing a three-phase, multiyear project to expand the Motus network into the Great Plains and Chihuahuan Desert, installing receiving stations along avian flyways to capture vital data and fill knowledge gaps.
Grassland bird populations are declining and the majority of species are understudied on their wintering grounds. In the winter of 2020, we implemented a regional monitoring program in the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas to establish baseline population estimates of grassland birds. We surveyed on a number of expansive cattle ranches, each exhibiting fascinating ecological and management histories. Through the implementation of this program, we can share that collaboration between ranching operations and grassland bird conservation is mutually beneficial.
The grassland ecosystem of North America is home to some of the fastest-declining species of birds. Sustainable ranching practices are a vital part of the grasslands story — past, present, and future. That’s why Bird Conservancy of the Rockies invests in land stewardship efforts on working lands. Together with private landowners, we are partnering to conserve, restore and revitalize healthy prairie landscapes for the benefit of people and wildlife communities across the Great Plains.