The Chihuahuan Desert grasslands of northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S. are the principal wintering grounds for 90% of grassland bird species breeding in the western Great Plains of North America. Species such as Baird's Sparrows, Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Sprague's Pipits, which rely on this region during the winter, have declined by upwards of 80% since the 1960s. Results from Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and cooperators' research shed light as to why these birds are declining and emphasize that unless immediate action is taken, forecasts are dire.
The field season is under way in northern Mexico, where RMBO and partners are studying the winter survival and habitat use of Baird's and Grasshopper Sparrows in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands. Writing from Chihuahua, biologist Erin Strasser shares an update on capturing and tracking sparrows, insights gained so far this season and stunning photos from the field.
Grassland birds are declining faster than any other group of North American birds. The key to reversing these declines may lie on their wintering grounds in northern Mexico. Writing from Chihuahua, biologist Erin Strasser provides a preview of RMBO's second season studying the overwintering ecology of Baird's and Grasshopper Sparrows in the Mexican grasslands.
It was a quality over quantity kind of season for banding Northern Saw-whet Owls this fall. While banders in North and South Dakota caught fewer owls per night, they recovered a total of 10 owls, or birds banded at another station or during a different season. Where were the owls first banded, and when? Read this post to find out (hint: one was first banded about 1,300 miles east!). Post updated on Dec. 17.
"Another nest has failed." This is the recurring news that technicians monitoring Aplomado Falcons in Chihuahua, Mexico, have reported over the last 18 years. Private Lands Wildlife Biologists Roberto Rodríguez and Pedro Calderón report from Chihuahua on last season's monitoring of this iconic grassland species and efforts to conserve its dwindling habitat there.
Now that fall is upon us in the Rockies, RMBO biologists and technicians are finishing proofing data gathered this summer under the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program. It’s not glamorous, but with proofing data comes the confirmation of cool new species for the program. Biologist Nick Van Lanen reports on the summer field season and species detected for the first time during IMBCR surveys.
This summer, 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. How many birds were spotted on their nests? Wildlife Biologist Angela Dwyer offers results from the aerial surveys, used to gauge population stability for these species of concern in Nebraska.
Grassland bird populations have declined more steeply than any other group of North American birds. Since 2006, RMBO has partnered with the City of Fort Collins to inventory and monitor grassland birds on city-owned properties near the Colorado-Wyoming border. These properties represent some of the most significant grasslands in northern Colorado and support populations of more than 20 high-priority bird species. Read about a day in the field with biologist Erin Youngberg and field technician Denis Perez surveying birds on these properties and the impact of the Mountains to Plains Region project.
RMBO biologists and field technicians are once again preparing to fan out across mountains, prairies and high deserts to conduct breeding bird surveys under the Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR) program. Biologist Nick Van Lanen provides an update on trainings for IMBCR surveys, including a rare bird spotted by a crew member – and former RMBO camper – in South Dakota.
RMBO's field crew in western Nebraska discovered its first Mountain Plover nest of the breeding season on May 8. After the cold start to spring, this newly laid nest with a clutch of three eggs was an important find. Nebraska Project Biologist Larry Snyder writes about the find and RMBO's plover nest conservation program. Post updated on July 3.
The temperate forests of West Mexico are critical habitat for endemic and migrant bird species. In March, RMBO wrapped up its first year of surveying birds in this region. Our technicians offer a report from Jalisco, Mexico, on their experiences meeting locals and surveying in this challenging, beautiful terrain, including a list of unique and interesting species detected.
Eastern Screech-Owls are the most common owl species in North America, yet little is known about their habitat needs or population dynamics. To fill these knowledge gaps – and get citizens involved in science linked to their natural environment – RMBO launched a new project last month in Fort Collins, Colorado, to monitor Eastern Screech-Owls along the Cache la Poudre River. Post updated on July 12.
Bald Eagle Watch, a citizen science program coordinated by Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, is in the midst of its 26th season of nest monitoring along the Front Range of Colorado. Educator Emily Snode provides a history of the program and Bald Eagle recovery and offers an update on the season to date. How many nests have shown signs of incubation? Read her post to find out! Post updated on May 13.
Last month, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory completed its first field season studying winter survival of Baird's and Grasshopper Sparrows in Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico. Both of these grassland species have declined between 70 and 80% since the 1960s. The key to stemming these population declines may lie on their wintering grounds in Chihuahua. Biologist Erin Strasser provides a wrap-up of the study including some interesting preliminary data.
The HawkWatch citizen science program gives volunteers the opportunity to participate in real science while they learn about raptor behavior and identification. Outreach Biologist Jeff Birek recounts a bountiful day counting migrating raptors on Dinosaur Ridge west of Morrison, Colorado, as part of HawkWatch and offers details on how people can get involved.
How do we decide where to conduct bird surveys? Throw darts at a giant map of the Rockies? If locations seem to be picked at random, well, it's because they are. Landowner Outreach and Program Technician Bill Tiedje explains the use of random sampling for bird survey site selection.
Grassland birds are declining faster than any other group of North American birds. The key to reversing this decline may lie on their wintering grounds in Chihuahua, Mexico. Biologist Erin Strasser provides an update from Chihuahua on a study that's using radio-telemetry to better understand the overwintering ecology of Baird's and Grasshopper Sparrows.
Earlier this month, the sustainable tourism website Rumbos published a photo of an alleged Black Swift taken Dec. 2, 2012, during a birding rally in Tambopata, Peru. If it is indeed a Black Swift, this would be the first known sighting of the species in South America, outside of samples of a Black Swift subspecies collected in Colombia in 1993. Biologist Rob Sparks offers insights – and a detailed map – about this recent sighting.
What a great banding season at Barr Lake State Park! It seems like only yesterday that bird bander Meredith McBurney and I kicked off the season in August, banding 50 birds with only four of our 21 nets open. In retrospect, this proved to be an omen of the sensational fall migration that was to come. This season, we banded over 1,700 birds. With a diversity of 71 species, it was a "big year" for the Barr Lake Banding Station. We had not reached numbers at this level and at this location since 2006!
Earlier this year, I began working with a landowner on improving her property for wildlife along the Dolores River in western Colorado. As a novel approach to restoration monitoring, I suggested we conduct a BioBlitz on her property. Using this approach, we assembled experts from a variety of ecological disciplines, along with teachers and students from the local community, to inventory the species on her property over two long weekends. What did we find?
The Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory has released the first-ever conservation plan for grassland bird species that winter in the Chihuahuan Desert, with support from the Rio Grande Joint Venture and American Bird Conservancy. The plan provides a wide range of science-based information to guide everyone from on-the-ground land managers to program- and policy-level decision-makers in maintaining and improving habitat for grassland bird species of high conservation concern.
Our Stewardship and Science teams recently received a $257,000 grant from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to support a project designed to conserve the Greater Sage-grouse and other sagebrush-obligate birds. Part of the three-year Conservation Innovation Grant will be used to develop a conservation tool based on our bird monitoring data. This tool will help inform future management decisions in the sagebrush ecosystem and encourage a multi-species approach to sagebrush conservation efforts.
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s Bald Eagle Watch Coordinator Cindi Kelly reports the nest we monitor about a mile from Ted’s Place northwest of Fort Collins, Colo., has survived the High Park fire so far. At one point flames were .9 miles from the nest. "It was a little scary because the fire was so close," she said. "The smoke can’t be good for anyone or anything. The eagles spend a lot of time grooming themselves. They have an inner eyelid used for blinking called a nictitating membrane, which slides across the eye every 3-4 seconds to wipe dirt and dust from the cornea."
By Joe Roller, RMBO Board Director, May 30, 2012
A rare sight greeted 10 of us this morning as we studied the breeding birds at Chatfield State Park near Denver on an outing organized by Wild Birds Unlimited and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. Late morning, as we watched a singing male Plumbeous Vireo on and near a nest, Becky Campbell and Nathan McAdam spotted a different vireo high in the trees above the path. We all searched the treetops and had a good look at a Yellow-throated Vireo interacting as a pair with the Plumbeous Vireo, coming right to the nest without being chased away. Excitement filled the air – literally – at seeing vireos of different species paired up at a nest!
RMBO has released "Wintering Grassland Bird Densities in Chihuahuan Desert Grassland Priority Conservation Areas, 2007-2011," documenting bird abundance, distribution, habitat use and other information collected over five years in three U.S. and six Mexican states. The Chihuahuan Desert is the primary wintering grounds for more than 90 percent of western North America’s migratory grassland birds.
Six years ago in late August, Rich Levad, Rob Sparks, Jason Beason and Ken Behrens hiked through spruce fir forest to a spot just above timberline where a Black Swift nest clung to a wet, rocky outcrop. The outing was part of Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s effort to collect baseline data on this little-known species. When no swifts were seen that evening, the scientists wondered if they had already started migrating – and where did they go?
The last bird that breeds in the U.S. and Canada with an unknown winter destination has finally given up its secret. After years of research – and with some luck – three Colorado researchers have learned that Black Swifts travel more than 4,000 miles to spend the winter in Brazil. The destination came as a surprise to the researchers since Black Swifts have not been documented in Brazil.
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory’s International Team is monitoring and banding birds in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands in northern Mexico with the help of 26 local field techs the team trained in early January.
As shown in the photo, field crews remove birds that are harmlessly captured in mist nets to gather data to guide conservation efforts. After receiving a USGS-issued leg band, the birds are weighed, measured and inspected before being released.
Birds including Baird’s Sparrow (pictured below), Grasshopper Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur and many others winter in Mexican grasslands before returning to the Great Plains in spring. RMBO is working to conserve their disappearing winter habitat and boost their winter survival.
Photos by Arvind Panjabi, International Program Director, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory