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Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds 2017 PRESIDENTIAL MIGRATORY BIRD STEWARDSHIP AWARD NOMINEES



The Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds has received three nominations in 2017 for the Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award. The 2017 award winner will be chosen at this year's annual Council meeting in the Spring. To learn more about this year's award nominations, visit the project summaries below.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Coordination with the United States Geological Survey (USGS)


Project: Eastern brown pelicans: dispersal, seasonal movements, and monitoring of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other contaminants in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Partners: Patrick Jodice (USGS), Juliet S. Lamb (Clemson University), Jeff Gleason (USFWS), Dave Moran (BOEM), Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, Texas Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Tulane University, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, USDA/ Mississippi State University, Clemson Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Buffalo State University

Description: Studies of seabirds have historically been limited to the breeding season, with limited data being available throughout the remainder of the annual cycle. Bird-borne biologgers were used to collect highly accurate location and movement data from eastern brown pelicans throughout the annual cycle. Individual breeders quickly returned to normal behavior after capture and tagging. Processed GPS locations totaled 169,000 points from 77 individual pelicans. GPS tracking indicated that pelicans were highly mobile, ranging over large areas during the breeding season and migrating up to 2,500 kilometers during non-breeding. Movement patterns were influenced by local conspecific competition during both breeding and migration, such that birds from larger colonies moved longer distances year-round compared to those from smaller colonies.

The study results suggest that prey availability and delivery rates are more important to reproductive rates than energetic value of prey species. A previously vetted integrated measure of nutritional stress during development, feather corticosterone, did well as a predictor of nestling survival and fledging rates. Corticosterone predicted 94% of inter-colony variation in fledging success and was also correlated with post-fledging survival, making it a powerful tool for measuring demographic patterns in brown pelicans.

Use of established modelling techniques showed that a high degree of spatial, temporal, and individual variation in exposure to surface pollutants across the population interacted with a high degree of individual variation in movement to create a complex and varying distribution of risk throughout the northern Gulf metapopulation of brown pelicans. This risk serves as a baseline for detection of otherwise unmeasurable future changes that may be observed in the areas of intermediate risk (Western Planning Area) and high risk (Central Planning Area). In addition, a baseline is established for possible future oil and gas activities and any related pollution risk in the Eastern Planning Area if the years-old drilling moratorium in effect for most of the area is ever lifted.

Contaminant sample analysis for young and adult brown pelicans remains to be done, and the study will be ongoing through December, 2018.

U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (USDOE/NNSA)


Project: Pantex-A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Contributing to Migratory Bird Conservation across Hemispheres

Partners: Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (Pantex Plant), Texas Tech University (including the USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit), West Texas A&M University, University of Manitoba (Canada), York University (Canada), Purple Martin Conservation Association, Disney World Wide Fund, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and many property owners and volunteers.

Description: Without mandate, the USDOE/NNSA Pantex Plant has developed a multi-dimensional migratory bird management and research program that demonstrates leadership in agency goals - commitment to on-site bird protection, outreach and diverse research strategies (in-house and contracted collaborations, opportunistic partnerships; and of local, regional, and hemispheric scopes) -and, consequently, can demonstrate a conservation reach that extends through North, Central and South America.

Protection strategies implemented on the 18,000-acre Pantex facility include  installing protective devices on >500 utility poles to protect raptors from electrocution and capping dozens of open-topped pipe fence posts to protect small birds from entrapment; these practices were promoted to other agency sites. An innovative outreach program enabled the banding of >10,000 purple martins in two states and staff participation with university faculty and students in studying a 72,000-record citizen scientist dataset.

Multi-year research projects have focused on the ecology of western burrowing owls in rural versus urban areas, avian use of prairie dog colonies, influences of wind farms on avian populations (mortality, avoidance), and year-round ecology and conservation needs of Swainson's hawks and the declining purple martin. Pantex-generated G.P.S. and geolocator data have identified risk areas for Swainson's Hawks (related to wind energy development) and stopover and wintering areas in Central and South American used by Southern Great Plains purple martins as part of an important range-wide research and conservation effort. These data provide considerable value-added contributions to the understanding of migratory bird ecology and issues and have been shared through more than 29 technical presentations, seven theses/dissertations, seven magazine articles, and seven scholarly articles; four other manuscripts are in review or press. The Pantex biologist has further promoted migratory bird conservation through 30 additional publications, frequent presentations, and various media.

Pantex recommendations have led to USDOE/NNSA sponsorship of a Raptor Research Foundation conference and a new purple martin colony at the Amarillo Zoo. Other partnerships include Texas Tech University (including the USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit), West Texas A&M University, Canada’s University of Manitoba and York University, Purple Martin Conservation Association, Disney World Wide Fund, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and many property owners and volunteers. Considering the high-level issues, data collected, shared management implications, and on-site protection strategies, the Pantex partnership may benefit the full suite (442 species) of birds that breed in, migrate through, and winter in the Southern Great Plains. Research plot data include 28 “special status species” and 26 others have been documented using the site. Multitudes of bird species and individuals fly through, rest, and feed on the Pantex property during migration, and all the while they must navigate through many potential threats and an ever-growing number of wind farms. Students working on projects are graduating well-versed in migratory bird issues and advanced technology. Some, having tracked Swainson’s hawks and purple martins across “the Americas” have already contributed to migratory bird conservation of hemispheric or global significance.

National Park Service (NPS)


Project: Disturbance and Recovery of Sooty Tern Nesting in Dry Tortugas National Park

Partners: Dr. Stuart Pimm and Rebecca Cope (Duke University), Sonny Bass (NPS Emeritus)

Description: The Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) is a pelagic seabird found throughout tropical waters and nests on rocky or coral islands.  Due to its widespread distribution and long life history, they are an important ecological indicator of the health of the world’s oceans.  As part of a joint initiative by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the National Park Service, the nesting colony on Bush Key in Dry Tortugas National Park has been the subject of a 16-year monitoring effort to track changes in nesting population and plant community on the island.  Surveys from this work have been used by Duke University to assess the impacts of large disturbances on sooty tern nesting habitat and numbers.  In 2005, a significant hurricane season reduced available nesting habitat by over 70%.  By 2013, available habitat had recovered to 92% of pre-disturbance levels.  Through this work, Bush Key has shown to provide a stable and resilient habitat for sooty terns during the breeding season.  However, if the intensity and frequency of hurricanes continue, this may shorten the recovery time between large disturbances, making this breeding colony less resilient.  Continued monitoring is essential to address emerging threats to the vegetation as well as the nesting colony.

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