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Our Work

Multi-Year Raptor Inventory and Survey Project

National Conservation Area and Orchard Combat Training Center

Dr. Jim Belthoff (Principal Investigator) and Research Associate Steve Alsup, MS

Con Shea Basin in foreground and Owyhee Mountains in background in NCA
Biologists park here to start their NCA survey work in Con Shea Basin (foreground) with the Owyhee Mountains in the background
View of surveyed raptor territory by the Snake River near Cove Arm Lake in the NCA
View of surveyed raptor territory by the Snake River near Cove Arm Lake in the NCA

The Orchard Combat Training Center (OCTC) lies within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA). Idaho Army National Guard training activities on the OCTC are managed under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the management agency for the NCA. As such, the OCTC training lands must be managed in accordance with the Department of Defense’s and the BLM’s (Department of Interior) environmental regulations. Specifically, BLM’s Manual 6840 establishes policy for management of species listed or proposed for listing pursuant to the Endangered Species Act and Bureau sensitive species which are found on BLM-administered lands. In order to comply with these regulations, the Idaho Army National Guard is proactively surveying for these species and their associated habitat in order to maintain their compliance with the PL 103-64 and established management guidelines.

Prairie Falcon standing on a rock ledge, laying claim to a former Red-tailed Hawk nest
Prairie Falcon standing on a rock ledge, laying claim to a former Red-tailed Hawk nest

Raptors that nest in the canyon of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA) depend heavily on the OCTC for foraging and transiting between foraging areas. This use has been documented in extensive telemetry studies, surveys, and observations from the 1980s to the present. Although we know historical densities of raptors nesting in the canyon, raptor densities and reproductive performance in the area had not been evaluated since 2003. Therefore, there is little understanding of the current abundance and density of raptors that rely on military lands for key aspects of their life history. Therefore, an important need to survey these populations exists to ensure the continued compatibility of military activity with the protection of natural resources and heritage. This ongoing project looks at the current abundance and distribution of raptors associated with the NCA and scientifically compares the demography of birds in modern surveys with those from earlier surveys conducted on the same lands.

Biologists Christina Hartmann and Chris Roberts monitoring Prairie Falcon territory with spotting scopes and binoculars by the Snake River, NCA
Biologists Christina Hartmann and Chris Roberts monitoring Prairie Falcon territory with spotting scopes and binoculars by the Snake River in the NCA

In addition, there is an alarming trend associated with the amount of illegal shooting of federally protected migratory birds in and around the OCTC. Not only does this illegal shooting kill protected wildlife, but it also decreases reproductive performance and degrades the long-term natural heritage of these military lands. The purpose of this project is to provide information on the scope and scale of the problem of the illegal shooting of migratory birds within and around military lands. Specifically, the project will provide information on the seasonal frequency with which illegal shooting of migratory birds occurs, the estimated spatial distribution of potential hotspots, shooting density maps within those hotspots, and the species that are targeted.

Henderson Basin raptor habitat with Castle Butte in the background at the NCA
Henderson Basin raptor habitat with Castle Butte in the background at the NCA

News and Recent Work

Human Influence on Raptors

Study Finds Illegal Killing of Protected Idaho Wildlife More Widespread than Previously Known

(2020) A new study has, for the first time, quantified the problem of the illegal killing of several species of non-game birds and snakes in two conservation areas in southwestern Idaho: the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and the Long-billed Curlew Habitat Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The journal Conservation Science and Practice has published the study by 18 authors representing Boise State University’s Raptor Research Center, Intermountain Bird Observatory, and Department of Biological Sciences; the U.S. Geological Survey; the Idaho Army National Guard; Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota; and Conservation Science Global, Inc., with cooperating partners the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the Idaho Power Corporation. Boise State University’s article by Anna Webb describes the study in broad strokes.

Researchers Investigate Climate Change Effects on American Kestrel

(2019) Boise State University news article regarding the work of Raptor Biology professor Dr. Julie Heath and M.S. Raptor Biology Student Sadie Ranck.

New Research Shows Owls’ Ability to Hunt Impaired by Noise

(2016) The study by Jesse Barber, assistant professor of biology at Boise State University, and Tate Mason, Boise State alumnus and education coordinator for The Peregrine Fund, is the first to examine the impact of noise on a predatory bird. Their findings were published in the journal Biological Conservation under the title “Anthropogenic noise impairs owl hunting behavior.”

Migration, Movement, and Dispersal Studies

‘Frequent Fliers’: American Kestrels Take to the Skies in New Study

(2020) Raptor Biology professor Dr. Julie Heath and Raptor Biology Alumna Hanna McCaslin (’19). See Boise State University news article or read the Journal of Animal Ecology article on kestrel dispersal via the British Ecological Society.

Raptor Research Center, Intermountain Bird Observatory, and Fundacion Migres International Migration Project in Tarifa, Spain

(2014) Learn about Boise State University’s collaborative research at the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, with former RRC Director Dr. Marc Bechard and Intermountain Bird Observatory Executive Director Greg Kaltenecker on YouTube. Read Raptor Biology Alumnus Rob Miller‘s (’13) blog about research work on the international migration project in Spain with Fundacion Migres.

Do Migratory Flight Paths of Raptors Follow Constant Geographical or Geomagnetic Courses?

(2006) Published in Animal Behaviour, Volume 72, Issue 4, October 2006, Pages 875-880 – text via Science Direct, by former RRC Director Mark Fuller et al.

Prairie Falcon Movements and Survival with US Geological Survey

(2005-2006)

Steenhoff, K., M.R. Fuller, M.N. Kockert, and K.K. Bates. 2005. Long-Range Movements and Breeding Dispersal of Prairie Falcons from Southwest Idaho. The Condor 107:481-496.

Steenhoff, K., K.K. Bates, M.R. Fuller, M.N. Kockert, J.O. McKinley, and P.M. Lukacs. 2006. Effects of Radiomarking on Prairie Falcons: Attachment Failures Provide Insights About Survival. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34 (1):116-126.

Stellar's Sea Eagle Movements

Peregrine Falcon and Swainson's Hawk Migration

Movements of Ferruginous Hawks from the Intermountain West

Peregrine Falcon Migration in the Western Hemisphere

Raptor Health

These Adorable Owls Will Not Kill You With Plague

(2015) Raptor Biology professor Dr. Jim Belthoffs research on burrowing owls was featured in Wired magazine. The story talks about fleas that infest the birds and their burrows, which can carry the bacteria that causes plague. Belthoff’s work shows that the owls appear to be immune to the ailment, which presents the opportunity to test if the owls could protect humans from plague. Read the full story (and watch a video).

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