Evaluating Habitat Use by Pelagic Birds on the Western Great Lakes, and Airspace Use of Migrant Songbirds Near and Over the Western Great Lakes.

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This assessment deals with a select geographic area, the Upper Great Lakes, and the common birds that can be found there during migration periods. Much is known about potential landbird stopover habitats and raptor migration routes, and a great deal of GIS data is available to develop preliminary risk models for landbirds. However, the distribution, abundance and species composition of waterbirds using off-shore areas of the Upper Great Lakes during migration and for wintering is largely unknown. Basic work needs to be done to fill this information gap so that risk models for off-shore areas can be developed. 

Another essential information gap is understanding how migrating birds use airspace in areas that may be developed for wind. Airspace use will also vary depending on weather and visibility. Much work is ongoing in the Great Lakes concerning land-based two-dimensional risk-modeling at coarse scales. The USGS will work with partners in the Great Lakes to conduct site-specific research to increase resolution and validate land-based two-dimensional models. USGS will begin important research to build off-shore and pelagic zone two-dimensional risk models and to collect data on bird movements aloft to add the third dimension to models. All these models and information therein will be used to build DSS tools for managers within the region. Three-dimensional data will be gathered to evaluate and enhance the utility of the three-dimensional model developed for refuging waterbirds to accommodate a wider diversity of birds and landscapes. Increased capacity will allow scientists to dedicate time towards strengthening our ties with the Great Lakes Wind Collaborative and to build partnerships with DOI and other agencies and groups so that we can coordinate our research with them in order to address the information needs of DOI agencies in as comprehensive a manner as possible. The goals of the five year project include:

Years 1-2

  • Conduct aerial surveys for pelagic and nearshore waterbirds during migration and wintering; map species-specific abundance and distribution , and examine these in relation to bathymetry, system productivity measures, ice cover, and prevailing winds.
  • Evaluate areas with predicted high bird conservation values during migration using portable marine radar and observational studies.
  • Begin collecting bird airspace use data (marine radar), in key areas where development is most likely to occur first.

Years 3-5

  • Continue aerial survey work, observational studies (bird surveys [land based for landbirds and continue aerial surveys for waterbirds], banding, acoustic surveys, and radio telemetry) and work with partners to validate and refine two-dimensional risk models, and determine the species likely to be impacted in areas already targeted for wind development.
  • Conduct marine and vertical profiler radar studies to validate two-dimensional risk models and quantify risk in three dimensions.
  • Begin refining the three-dimensional model developed for refuging waterbirds for species of concern in the Great Lakes.
  • Apply machine learning algorithms to weather stations around the Great Lakes to describe migration phenologies. For example, can we provide a probabilistic description of migration events that can be validated by our field studies?