Migration and Movement

Science Center Objects

USGS assists state fish and wildlife agencies, land and wildlife managers, and other stakeholders by producing applied science-based tools to guide wind and solar energy development to locations where it will have minimal impact on wildlife. As a basis for these tools, USGS researchers study the movement and migration of wildlife.

Each project below is associated with a type of energy production or transmission. Types of energy production or transmission are represented by the following icons:

Transmission lines, solar energy, wind and offshore energy, and oil and gas extraction icons

Abbreviations used in project descriptions are defined on the Energy and Wildife Abbrevations page.

Projects below also are grouped into the following categories:

Bats

Birds

Raptors

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Bats

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Mid-Atlantic Coastal Bat and Acoustic Nano-Tag Study

Cooperative Research Unit: Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Scientists from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, USGS, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University are studying migration timing and habitat use of eastern red bats in coastal areas of Virginia. With the move to develop coastal wind energy resources, there is a need to understand the potential for migration disruption and possible additive mortality of red bats and other migratory species. By understanding the timing of migration and offshore movements of these bats, it may be possible to design and implement wind energy mitigation measures, such as seasonal curtailment and (or) siting, to minimize interactions with bats. Eastern red bats along the coast of Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey are being captured and outfitted with very high-frequency nano-tags. Fixed sensor towers capable of tracking multiple bats simultaneously have been placed along the Virginia outer coast and in the Chesapeake Bay. Initial results regarding nano-tag retention time and bat migratory movements are being analyzed.

 

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Pre- and Post-Hibernation and Migratory Activity of Bats in the Central Appalachians

Cooperative Research Unit: Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The USGS and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University used fixed-site, long-term acoustical monitoring near cave systems and along mountain ridgelines and adjacent side slopes in Virginia and West Virginia to determine the timing of hibernation and migratory pulses for the endangered Indiana bat, threatened northern long-eared bat, and eastern red bat. Activities related to date, hourly wind speeds, and ambient temperatures are being analyzed to determine drivers of activity in autumn and spring. These data provide further evidence that operational mitigation strategies at wind energy facilities could help protect migratory bat species and could be used to inform siting decisions for proposed wind energy facilities to lessen the potential impacts on migratory bats that use Appalachian ridges as their primary migration corridors.

 

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The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat)

Science Centers: Fort Collins Science Center and Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

USGS is the lead agency of a multiorganizational program called NABat, or the North American Bat Monitoring Program. NABat members work to better understand the ecological consequences of population decline and risks from continuing and emerging threats, such as white-nose syndrome and wind energy, on 46 species of bats common to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. NABat’s mission is to help resource managers and industry partners map bat distributions, better estimate extinction risk, and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation actions. The USGS has developed online data management and collaboration tools for bat monitoring, including services for archiving pre-construction acoustic recordings collected at wind energy facilities. Presently, NABat monitoring data have been collected in 39 States and 10 Canadian Provinces. NABat participants include State and Federal agencies, universities and NGOs, as well as private industry (for example, Duke Energy). Newly developed resources include a protocol for processing acoustic data collected to monitor the impacts of energy development on bats and advanced statistical modeling procedures to interpret acoustic monitoring data for bat population status and trends.

 

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Using Weather Radar to Detect Bat Colonies in South Texas

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USGS scientists, using weather surveillance radar data to quantify the stopover distribution of birds migrating through the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) region, detected partial ring signatures characteristic of bat movements. The scientists determined these signatures represented bats emerging from roost sites located under bridges within 80 kilometers of the Corpus Christi, Texas, radar station. Ground surveys of 8 of the 11 identified possible roost sites determined that 7 of those sites were occupied by Mexican free-tailed bats and other bat species. This study shows the utility of weather surveillance radar for locating bat colonies and monitoring regionwide bat movements.

Mexican free-tailed bats

Mexican free-tailed bats. (Credit: Ann Froschauer, USFWS. Public domain.)

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Birds

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Airspace Use by Migrating Landbirds at Lake Erie

Science Center: Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Interest is growing in developing wind energy capacity along Great Lakes shorelines, both on and offshore. The potential impacts to the large concentrations of landbirds that use the southern Lake Erie shoreline during spring and fall migration need to be considered in this development. Two marine radars, operated simultaneously at the shoreline and sites 5 or 24 kilometers inland, are collecting data that can be used to describe movement patterns of night-migrating landbirds. USGS scientists are estimating the ascent and descent flight profiles for night-migrating landbirds in relation to distance from the southwestern Lake Erie shoreline. Scientists are also estimating the intensity of nightly bird movements and relating those results to data on banded birds.

 

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Distribution of Landbirds During Migratory Stopover in the Gulf of Mexico Region

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

Each spring and fall, millions of landbirds migrate through the GOM region and depend on stopover sites for food and cover. In areas along the northern and western Gulf, where development of liquefied natural gas export terminals is increasing, it is critical in conservation planning efforts to know where birds consistently stop to rest and forage. In support of USFWS, USGS is using weather surveillance radar from 2008 to 2015 to quantify the stopover distribution of landbirds during spring and fall migrations. USFWS can use these data to inform environmental assessments of energy projects, such as liquefied natural gas export terminals, pipelines, and wind turbines, and other development, such as cellular towers and roads.

 

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Documenting Movements, Habitat Use, and Foraging Patterns of Common Loons and Long-Tailed Ducks

Science Center: Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

USGS scientists are using satellite telemetry and archival geolocator tags to document the movements, habitat use, and foraging patterns of common loons during migration across the Great Lakes. Additional work is underway to radiomark long-tailed ducks to determine their local movement patterns while wintering at Lake Michigan. These data on waterbird seasonal movement patterns and core use areas can be used to inform environmental impact assessments of potential wind turbine placement and assist managers to identify, evaluate, and suggest alternate wind facility sites in the Great Lakes.

 

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External GPS-GSM Transmitters for Tracking Seabirds

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

USGS scientists are testing solar-powered GPS-GSM transmitters on seabirds to capture fine-scale movement patterns and better relate the influence of weather, resource availability, and hazardous conditions on seabirds. These transmitters are providing data on flight altitude of seabirds, information that is relevant to assessing the risk of collision or displacement to seabirds by potential offshore wind turbines. This information can be used to model habitat use, mortality risk, and the impact of weather on flight behavior for these species regarding multiple proposed offshore wind facilities along the Atlantic coast.

 

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Overland Migration of Marine Birds in a Wind Energy Corridor

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The Pacific coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico contains a substantial wetland complex supporting large aggregations of nonbreeding waterbirds. Extensive wind energy development has occurred in the plains bordering these wetlands. This study examined movement patterns of three marine-associated bird species in the northern GOM. Data provide evidence that marine birds from the Gulf region overwinter along the Pacific coast of Mexico and use the isthmus as a migratory corridor. This research can help resource managers better understand the various risks that marine birds may encounter during migration.

 

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Possible Displacement of Red-Throated Loons by Wind Energy Development

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Major spring and fall staging and stopover locations of red-throated loons, or red-throated divers, along the North American Atlantic Flyway include Nantucket Shoals, the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, Hudson Bay, and the lower Great Lakes. During the nonbreeding season, this species uses marine areas in the North Sea, Irish Sea, and Baltic Sea. These same areas are also bustling with various marine industry activities, including construction and operation of offshore wind farms, which can displace marine birds. The consequences of displacement for individuals and consequently on the population as a whole are unknown. A May 2017 workshop was held in Edinburgh, Scotland, where scientists developed concepts about how red-throated divers might be affected by displacement. A report was published on the main points of discussion and concepts developed during the workshop. This information can help inform project development decisions by stakeholders including BOEM and the wind energy industry.

 

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Potential Impacts of Offshore Wind Energy Projects on Endangered Roseate Terns

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Offshore wind energy projects are being proposed and developed off the coasts of Massachusetts and New York, with the first project becoming operational at Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. Fish-eating terns traveling through these areas could be affected by the construction and operation of wind turbines. The Cape and Islands area of southeastern Massachusetts is a particularly important area for the endangered northwest Atlantic roseate tern because most of the population congregates in this area for several months during the post-breeding staging period prior to fall migration. USGS scientists are examining long-term temporal variation in staging site use and survival of terns prior to the construction of offshore wind turbines. These data could be useful for evaluating the timing of risks to roseate terns from proposed offshore wind energy projects.

 

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Satellite Tracking Offshore Habitat Use in Diving Bird Species

Science Center: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

In collaboration with BOEM, USFWS, and other partners, USGS scientists are using platform terminal transmitter satellite tracking tags to determine the occurrence and local movement patterns of red-throated loons, surf scoters, and northern gannets in U.S. waters of the mid-Atlantic region during migration and winter. From 2012 to 2016, scientists tracked the movements of 75 gannets and 66 loons, and from 2001 to 2016, scientists tracked 217 scoters on their northward migration to breeding colonies and on southward migration back to and through the mid-Atlantic region. Data can be used to inform siting, permitting, and regulation of future offshore wind development and can provide important information on key habitat use and migration of a suite of species with different ecological niches.

 

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Spatial and Foraging Ecology of Brown Pelicans in the South Atlantic Bight

Cooperative Research Unit: South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Brown pelicans are a species of concern in many States and can serve as an indicator species for marine, coastal, and estuarine ecosystem health because they interact with all three ecosystems and across a range of trophic systems. There is potential overlap between pelican use areas and proposed or existing BOEM activities around development of offshore wind, oil, or gas. Information about the fine-scale habitat use of brown pelicans in the marine environment is needed to determine the probability of pelican exposure to offshore energy development activities. USGS scientists are attaching GPS tags to pelicans in South Carolina, Georgia, and northeast Florida to assess foraging ranges, movement patterns, and migration paths. This research also complements pelican tracking efforts being conducted in the GOM.

 

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Tools for Identifying and Prioritizing Areas Used by Migrating Whooping Cranes

Science Center: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Whooping cranes of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population migrate twice each year through the Great Plains between Canada and Texas. To assist with identifying migration areas across this endangered species’ migration range and help with recovery efforts of this population of whooping cranes, USGS and partners delineated a migration corridor that identifies areas used by most birds during their migrations. In partnership with USFWS, USGS scientists also created a tool that predicts wetland and other landscape features cranes would most likely use during future migrations. These tools offer USFWS and partners ways to identify landscapes that may be of conservation importance to migrating whooping cranes.

Bird collage

From left: Roseate Turns (Credit: Alcides Morales, USFWS). Northern Gannet (Credit: Orsulak, USFWS). Whooping cranes (Credit: Klaus Nigge, USFWS). (Public domain.)

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Raptors

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Golden Eagles in New Mexico

Cooperative Research Unit: New Mexico Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The BLM manages large areas in New Mexico that have a high potential for wind energy development. USGS science is helping assess the risk that proposed wind energy developments in southeastern and south-central New Mexico may have on resident and migratory golden eagles. The study was conducted to assess the movement ecology and genetic structure of migratory and resident golden eagles; identify nest sites; estimate productivity and survival, origin, and migration patterns; and determine factors affecting golden eagle distribution. Results of the study may be used to inform the development of mitigation strategies that can reduce potential negative effects from proposed wind energy developments on golden eagles

 

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Golden Eagle Migration and Habitat Use

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

The USGS is collecting information related to habitat use, home range, and population dynamics of golden eagles in the Central Appalachians, northeastern California, and the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, using various methodologies including Global Positioning System-Global System for Mobile (GPS-GSM) communications telemetry, standard geographic information system (GIS) analyses, nest visits, and non-invasive genetic monitoring. The data have been used to model movement and create risk models to assist resource management agencies in evaluating management options for this species. Results can inform resource managers about where and when eagles could be most at risk from disturbances associated with renewable energy structures. Data are being combined with datasets from similar projects to create a framework and baseline to build an effective long-term golden eagle monitoring program in support of adaptive management.

 

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Golden Eagle Movement and Conservation in Coastal Southern California

Science Center: Western Ecological Research Center

To evaluate the effects of human activities on golden eagles in coastal southern California, the USGS began a multiyear golden eagle survey and tracking program in 2014, supported by the San Diego Association of Governments, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the USFWS, and the BLM. More than 40 golden eagles were captured in San Diego County, Orange County, and western Riverside County, California, and fitted with GPS backpack transmitters, allowing scientists to track their movements. Movements ranged as far north as northern Nevada and southern Wyoming and as far south as the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico. Researchers also developed habitat selection models and provided predictions of population-level habitat selection for golden eagles in San Diego County. Modeled results indicate strong avoidance of urban areas, moderate avoidance of exurban areas, and avoidance of a buffer around these landscapes. In contrast, eagles preferred more rugged areas in higher elevation terrain. This work contributes to a broader understanding of the population status, demography, resource use, and genetic structure of golden eagles across a wide gradient of environmental conditions.

 

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Potential Interactions of Migrating Raptors and Wind Energy Sites at the International Scale

Cooperative Research Unit: Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Swainson’s hawks are long-distance migratory raptors that breed across Western North America and migrate to Argentina for the winter. This annual round trip of approximately 20,000 kilometers, or 12,500 miles, takes the hawks over 12 countries, which all have interests in wind energy development. The USGS is using GPS transmitters to determine the hawk’s precise migration routes and movement patterns in their breeding and wintering ranges. This research can help identify high-risk areas for migrating raptors at the international scale.

 

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Wintering Distribution of Golden Eagles in the Southern Great Plains

Cooperative Research Unit: Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

The Southern Great Plains, which comprises eastern New Mexico and the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, is experiencing rapid wind energy development. The region has traditionally been an important wintering area for golden eagles. The USGS is assessing the distribution and abundance of wintering golden eagles in relation to land-cover and land-use types across the region. The results of this study can provide industry managers with insight into whether landscape features pose potential conflicts between wind energy development and eagles.

Golden eagle in flight

Golden eagle in flight. (Credit: Tom Koerner, USFWS. Public domain.)