Research

Earthspan biologists conduct many important projects in addition to their landmark peregrine falcon research.

46 Years of Peregrine Falcon Studies

Posted by on Jan 5, 2017 in research | 0 comments

46 Years of Peregrine Falcon Studies

Earthspan principals conduct long-term studies on migrating peregrines at Assateague Island, MD/VA (autumn since 1970) and Padre Island, TX (autumn and spring since autumn 1977). We have expended more than 52,000 man-hours of survey time in observing over 66,000 peregrines and capturing 15,229. The tundra Peregrine has made a significant recovery and has been removed from the list of endangered species, yet continued monitoring of populations is imperative. Because of the continuity and standard method for data collection these surveys have become an essential tool in that effort.  Our database at Assateague includes sightings of every other raptor we have observed on the Island since 1970. Over 90% of all observations there have been recorded by three experienced individuals, who have also conducted springtime studies at Padre Island. At Padre a more diverse cast of highly qualified individuals has participated.

Our work in these studies with satellite-received telemetry allows us to continue elucidating previously undescribed aspects of the tundra Peregrine’s wintering biology and continental migration and to identify critical habitats. Given available technologies, Assateague and Padre remain ideal laboratories in which to study and address present and future issues of concern to Peregrines, other Neotropical migrants, and humans. In recent years we have studied emerging infectious pathogens such as West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza in partnership with U.S. Government entities, and addressed contaminants through studies related to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

In 2008 our database allowed us to provide an Expert Declaration on the Draft Environmental Assessment and Management Plan for Take of Migrant Peregrine Falcons in the United States for Use in Falconry. Among other points, we concluded that the standardized average number of migrating Peregrines we observed at Assateague over the preceding 29 years was essentially the same as that seen more than six decades ago (1939-1944), before DDT had serious adverse effects on the reproductive potential of the Peregrine in North America. Our work at Assateague and Padre Islands represents the bulk of tundra Peregrine Falcons banded within the continental United States since the establishment of the Bird Banding Laboratory by the Department of the Interior.  Furthermore, our overall database constitutes the most significant and longest continuous monitoring study on this falcon in the Americas. Long-term studies such as ours are essential to monitoring the stability of wildlife populations, particularly in light of rapid changes that may occur due to contaminants, infectious diseases, habitat loss, climate change and other factors. By the long-term and standardized nature of our studies, we have established levels of observation in stable populations that will quickly raise future concerns if not achieved over a several year period.

The 47th annual survey at Assateague was conducted 27 September through 17 October.The survey team expended 189 man-hours in the field, recording 317 sightings of peregrines and capturing 97 different individuals. Six of the falcons captured were previously banded. The 317 sightings included 61 observations of individuals previously captured during the survey. We exclude resident peregrines but include these other known duplicates in tables and discussion. This is to allow more direct comparisons among our data and those from earlier Assateague counts (dating from 1939) and other projects where protocols do not allow identification of duplicates.

Sightings per 10 man-hours were 7th highest and captures 6th highest among our 47 survey years.We were unable to conduct survey activities for 2.5 days due to high winds and/or tides, but productivity on the 19 active survey days was high considering the persistent northerly winds. Although some north wind days can be productive if overcast skies and light rain are present, most days with winds from the north quarter assist the migrants in moving south and we observe few. In reviewing weather records from the Ocean City airport to confirm our observations, we found that winds had a northerly component on each of the initial 14 active survey days. On the following three survey days only four total hours were exempt from that pattern. We finally received winds from the southerly quarter on the final two survey days, after most of the migrants had passed. So while winds were generally unfavorable (as in 2015) for observing and capturing Peregrines on 17 of 19 2016 survey days, more rain and overcast skies than last year increased our productivity this year. 2016 Assateague Report

During the spring survey period at South Padre Island (SPI) from 14 April to 03 May, we expended 168 survey hours in the field, recording 483 sightings and capturing 58 individual peregrines. Of those captured 6 (10.34 %) were previously banded Padre returns and 52 (89.66 %) were first banded during the survey. After second year (ASY) peregrines comprised 70.69 % of the captured sample. The seasonal sighting rate of 28.64 peregrines/10 survey hours is the second highest recorded, significantly higher than the 22 year SPI mean of 19.23 (±5.40). Not included in the totals above are 3 seasonal recaptures of peregrines initially captured a few hours earlier or one, the previous day.

In autumn, we surveyed SPI from 25 September to 22 October, expending 345 survey hours in the field, recording 702 peregrine falcon observations and capturing 180 individuals. Of those captured 6 (3.33 %) were previously banded and 174 (96.67 %) were first banded this season. Previously banded captures include 1 foreign banded falcon and 5 Padre returns. The seasonal sighting rate of 20.34 birds/10 survey hours is well above, yet consistent with our 23 year mean of 18.87 (+ 4.07) on SPI. Adults comprised 19.58% of the age determined sightings (n=618) and 6.67 % of captured peregrines. Not included in the totals above, we recorded 82 sightings of peregrines color marked this season and recaptured 32. The minimum average stopover duration of recaptures on SPI was 7.3 days, ranging from a few hours to 20 days.2016 Padre Report

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Monitoring in Migratory Peregrines

Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in research | 0 comments

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DWH) released an estimated 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during April through July 2010. Earthspan and its partners, The Peregrine Fund and the University of Connecticut,  collected and analyzed blood samples from migrating Peregrine Falcons (more…)

Wintering area DDE source to migratory white-faced ibis revealed by satellite telemetry and prey sampling

Posted by on Sep 26, 2011 in research | 0 comments

White-faced ibis with PTT package

Earthspan principals led a cooperative study to identify the source(s) of DDT-related contamination still plaguing a northern Nevada population of white-faced ibis many years after use of the pesticide was banned in the United States. (more…)

Broad-winged hawk: Movements and habitat association during migration and wintering periods

Posted by on Sep 25, 2011 in research | 0 comments

Broad-winged hawk: Movements and habitat association during migration and wintering periods

Problem/Background
Modern organophosphate insecticides are short-lived in the environment. These insecticides are toxic to raptors, but they are unlikely to be detected in animal blood or tissue unless the animals are sampled soon after exposure. Researchers postulate that pesticide exposures, and habitat alteration, in their wintering (more…)

Summary of Final Report: Study of Peregrine Falcons Wintering on the Gulf Coast of Mexico

Posted by on Sep 24, 2011 in research | 0 comments

Summary of Final Report: Study of Peregrine Falcons Wintering on the Gulf Coast of Mexico

Abstract
Fundación Ara and Earthspan conducted a study of peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) wintering on the Gulf coast of Mexico. Data collection occurred between January 1997 and October 1998. The main aim of the study was to better understand the movements of peregrine falcons on their wintering grounds. Other objectives were to track peregrines to their breeding areas (more…)

Swainson’s Hawk: Scientific Research Rescues Species Before Threatened or Endangered Status Listing is Needed

Posted by on Sep 23, 2011 in research | 0 comments

Swainson’s Hawk: Scientific Research Rescues Species Before Threatened or Endangered Status Listing is Needed

Problem/Background
The Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsonii, SWHA) is listed as a species of concern by five states and the Bureau of Land Management, and as a special emphasis species by the U.S. Forest Service. Nesting population declines was reported over much of the SWHA range in the early 1990s. With no obvious reason for this decline, (more…)

A Study of The Golden Eagle in Mexico

Posted by on Sep 22, 2011 in research | 0 comments

A Study of The Golden Eagle in Mexico

Selected Passages from the Final Report to Proyecto ARA A.C.

Introduction
Mexico’s national bird, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), is classified as “in danger” in Article 9 of the Federal Hunting Law (SEDUE 1984) and Ramos (1986) classifies the population as declining, primarily due to decreases in habitat quality. Environmental pollution (more…)

Satellite Tracking Oryx

Posted by on Sep 21, 2011 in research | 0 comments

Satellite Tracking Oryx

Accomplishments

White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico
White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is the military’s largest all-overland test range in the Western Hemisphere and encompasses 2.2 million acres, which can be extended to 4 million acres (total) by including adjacent federal land holdings. WSMR houses the U.S. Army Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (more…)

Satellite Tracking Ferruginous Hawks

Posted by on Sep 20, 2011 in research | 0 comments

Satellite Tracking Ferruginous Hawks

Hill Airforce Base, Utah

Hill AFB Information:
Hill AFB is home of the 338th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing: both are F-16 Fighting Falcon units. Hill AFB also provides maintenance facilities for C-130 aircraft. Approximately 1 million acres is directly controlled by Hill AFB including a core area of 6,690 acres (more…)

Steller’s Sea Eagle Reseach In Russia

Posted by on Sep 19, 2011 in research | 0 comments

Steller’s Sea Eagle Reseach In Russia

Problem/Background
At present, the world’s population of Steller’s sea eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla, SSE) appears to be stable and not endangered; however, this species is listed as a Bird to Watch. Its breeding range is located within remote, restricted areas in Russia – areas where access can be achieved only by air or sea. (more…)