Monitoring Bird Migration

Like many bird observatories, MRBO’s origin was a migration monitoring station.  Beginning in 2009, the organization addressed the need for identifying the species and numbers of birds that use the Missouri River corridor as stopover habitat during migration. For five years (2009 – 2013) we operated migration banding stations at Grand Pass Conservation Area and Van Meter State Park, where we studied passerines and shorebirds.  These original migration stations resulted in the name “Missouri River” Bird Observatory and helped launch the organization.

Later, the focus of our migration monitoring shifted to grassland habitats, where we operated spring and fall migration stations. (Read the 2015 and 2016 reports).  Beginning in 2014, we also used line-transect surveys to document the timing and abundance of migrants on grasslands.  In 2017, MRBO shifted to a survey-only model of migration monitoring.

While many aspects of migration remain a mystery, there is less known about the habitat use and migration pathways of prairie-obligate birds than any other guild. Using spatially explicit (geographically exact) locations of grassland birds during repeat surveys in migration, we are able to determine where and when birds are using habitat.

By the very nature of bird migration, the journey is perilous and tests the limits of endurance. Before migration, birds are capable of storing up to 50% of their body weight in lipids. They rely upon stopover sites to rebuild these reserves. Stopover habitat is increasingly becoming important for many bird populations in decline due to habitat alteration on wintering grounds and fragmentation throughout their ranges.

In order for land managers to make sound decisions considering multiple landscape scales and diverse taxa, consistent and standardized monitoring efforts throughout species’ life history cycles are needed. Resulting information can inform decisions based on migration timing of various avian species, condition of birds in migration, as well as habitat and habitat managment associations of stopover migrants.

One output of our repeat visits is an app that shows a comparison of different species use of habitat over time.