Research

Birds are some of nature’s most magnificent and fascinating organisms. With more than 10,000 species globally, birds play a significant role as indicators of the health of the world’s ecosystems. As ambassadors and bellwethers of the natural world, birds are intrinsically linked to the culture and economy of Montana, the United States and the world. The Avian Science Center’s underlying foundation is ecological research of bird populations. We focus on research projects that inform an understanding of the state of the environment including the impacts of human activities on our natural resources.

Adaptive Management Monitoring

Adaptive Management Monitoring

We use avian monitoring to provide information on populations, communities and ecosystems. Our monitoring approach follows the adaptive management process that simultaneously 1) meets short-term management objectives, and 2) advances our knowledge about birds to reduce uncertainty in achieving future management objectives. Thus, the monitoring programs we developed are based on clearly defined management objectives that can be adjusted as we continue to learn more about birds, their response to the management actions or changes in the environment. A few of our current research projects featuring monitoring programs include:

  • Effects of livestock grazing on greater sage-grouse and songbirds in sagebrush habitat of central Montana
  • Golden eagles in Yellowstone National Park’s northern range, including demographic drives and habitat use
  • Relating management activities to grassland songbird abundance on the National Bison Range

Landscape-scale Conservation

Landscape-scale Conservation

Birds reside over vast areas and are bioindicators of the landscape and ecosystem. Often we use a landscape-level approach, working with numerous stakeholders with vested cultural, social and economic interest in the landscape. Many of our current research projects involve working in tandem with private agricultural producers like farmers and ranches; state, federal and tribal agenices; non-profit organizations; and other conversation pracitioners. We are currently focusing on wetland characteristics of landscapes across the western US in which we are connecting bird responses to historic and current spatial and temporal wetland patterns. A few of our current projects are:

  • Developing wetland conservation for white-faced ibis across the Intermountain West
  • Synchronizing conservation to seasonal wetland hydrology and waterbird migration in semi-arid landscapes
  • Boom, bust: linking patterns of rural land-use change and wetland condition to trends in greater sandhill crane demographics

Advancing Avian Methods

Advancing Avian Methods

There are many field methods and statistical analyses available to understand numerous aspects of birds such as nest success, survival rates and the number of birds during a specific time (i.e., abundance). Methods and analyses evolve as we learn more about the uncertainties in our abilities to locate nests or count and follow birds. We develop, evaluate and refine field methods and statistical analyses to improve our certainty to inform avian conservation. A few of our more recent projects include:

  • Dependent double-observer method reduces false positive errors in auditory avian survey data
  • Disentangling monitoring programs: design, analysis and application considerations
  • Comparison of removal-based methods for estimating abundance of five species of prairie songbirds