Up, Up and Away to Survey Raptors in Nebraska

By August 30, 2013Partners, Science

In early June, a LightHawk pilot and his wife volunteered their time and plane to help Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory with a census of Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagles nesting in the panhandle region of western Nebraska.

Ferruginous Hawk

A Ferruginous Hawk feeds its chicks at a nest in western Nebraska. Photo by Bob Grier.

RMBO has been working with Nebraska Game and Parks for the past decade to conduct aerial surveys of nesting sites. The purpose of these flights is to track nesting activities for Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagles and use that information to assess population stability. Biologists can view from a plane whether an adult is incubating her nest or if chicks are present.

In Nebraska, both species only breed within a handful of counties in the panhandle. Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagles are species of concern for biologists, vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation and the potential for wind energy development.

During the June surveys, RMBO checked 83 historical Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle nests and 25 Ferruginous Hawk manmade nesting platforms (all but 5 sites were checked by aerial surveys with LightHawk over three days). Biologist Larry Snyder said 13 of the historic nests were found to be active this year, down an estimated 15% from historic data. He also noted that one of the 25 platforms was active, but with a Red-tailed Hawk.

Thank You, LightHawk!

The pilot and his wife volunteered through LightHawk, an organization that provides pilots, aircraft and resources to conservation organizations. In addition to flights in Nebraska, LightHawk pilots assisted RMBO stewardship staff with aerial surveys of playa lakes in need of restoration in Weld County, Colo., in June and plans are in the works to survey potential Black Swift nesting sites in Wyoming.


LightHawk pilot Carl Mattson, left, poses by his plane with RMBO’s Larry Snyder, Clay Edmondson and Angela Dwyer. Photo by Julie Boyd.

~ Angela Dwyer, Wildlife Biologist