Birds Use Tortoise Burrows, Too
How remote camera trap monitoring revealed avian behavior at desert tortoise burrows within a wind energy facility
A greater roadrunner passing slowly by a desert tortoise burrow
A loggerhead shrike flashing its wings in a hunting display
A rock wren capturing a grasshopper
A rock wren taking a dust bath at the entrance of a desert tortoise burrow
A curious loggerhead shrike
Remote camera monitoring allows us to see wildlife behavior without disturbance. Instead of from a 'bird's eye view,' this study approaches observations from an available natural resource on the ground — desert tortoise burrows.
A USGS paper, "Birds not in flight: Using camera traps to observe ground use of birds at a wind-energy facility," reveals avian behaviors in and around tortoise burrows. From late spring to mid-autumn of one year, remote cameras installed to monitor threatened Agassiz's desert tortoises at a wind farm near Palm Springs, CA captured thousands of observations of birds at desert tortoise burrows.
Using ground-based remote camera monitoring, SBSC ecologists documented 12 bird species that regularly used desert tortoise burrows and entrances to gather nest material, display, hunt, take dust baths (an activity that maintains feathers and removes parasites), and other activities. Newly established burrows had less bird visitation than older burrows, showing that these natural resources take time to be discovered and used by birds.
Camera traps focused at ground-level can be a useful tool in avian conservation efforts, because they are an effective technique for measuring bird presence, activity and behavior in altered habitats such as wind farms, especially for those species that are low flyers or ground dwellers. Ten of the 12 bird species observed in this study have been known to be occasional casualties of turbine-blade strikes. The growing number of utility-scale wind energy facilities worldwide has increasing effects on wildlife, including many bird species. These data can add to our understanding of avian behavior and habitat use in relation to wind-energy infrastructure and operations, and help determine the vulnerability of avifauna that inhabit the area.
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