The Chihuahuan Desert grasslands of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States 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, published in February in the journal Biological Conservation, 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 provides 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.
RMBO’s field crew discovered its first Mountain Plover nest of the season on May 8. After the cold start to spring, this newly laid nest with a clutch of three eggs was an important find. Biologist Larry Snyder writes about the find and RMBO’s plover nest conservation program on the RMBO blog.
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory had a productive and successful first field season studying Baird’s and Grasshopper Sparrow overwintering survival and habitat use in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands of northern Mexico. From early November to early March, RMBO gathered a massive amount of novel and informative data on these two species at Reserva Ecológica El Uno near Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico.
A herd of bison grazes the golden-hued grasslands, Ferruginous Hawks patrol the skies for jackrabbits, and packs of coyotes yip back and forth across the prairie dog colonies. Thus was our welcoming as we arrived at Reserva Ecológica El Uno near Janos, Chihuahua, Mexico on the afternoon of Nov. 11. Our mission: Catch and place radio transmitters on Baird’s and Grasshopper Sparrows this winter to track them and study their habitat use and overwinter survival.
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.
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 new Fall/Winter edition of The All-Bird Bulletin features five stories about RMBO’s work. See pages 12 -16 to read: “New Model Identifies Bird Habitat Use at Multiple Scales,” “‘Boots on the Ground’ Expands Habitat Conservation,” “Taking Outreach from the Land to the Classroom Builds Future Conservation Ethic,” “Critical Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands Rapidly Give Way to the Plow” and “Integrated Monitoring in Bird Conservation Regions (IMBCR)”.