Wildlife Tracking/Telemetry

Science Center Objects

USGS scientists use tracking/telemetry tags to determine the occurrence and local movement patterns of wildlife. Because energy development often takes place in critical wildlife habitats, scientists can study these wildlife patterns to help guide project siting and operational decisions to areas and practices that present the lowest risk to energy development and 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:

Hydropower, offshore wind energy, oil and gas extraction, solar energy, and wind power icons

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

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Wind power icon

Assessing Eagle Use Frequency at Wind Energy Facilities

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Operation of wind energy facilities can adversely affect eagles, among other wildlife. USFWS guidelines suggest wind facility operators or developers survey eagle use and calculate the risk to eagles across the project area; however, questions have arisen concerning the degree to which data from survey plots represent eagle use over an entire project area. The USGS is using existing telemetry data on golden eagles in the Mojave Desert, California, to help the USFWS compare eagle use within a plot to eagle use over an entire project area. Results can provide a better understanding of golden eagle activity and a context for interpreting survey data collected at potential wind energy facilities.

 

hydropower icon

Biotelemetry Studies of Fish Behavior and Passage Through Dams

Science Center: Leetown Science Center

Understanding and quantifying fish behavior is essential for identifying fish passage problems and developing effective passage solutions across hydropower dams and other manmade barriers. Biotelemetry, or using radio and acoustic telemetry to track biological organisms, has emerged as the method of choice for acquiring detailed, individual-based data to quantify passage and critical fish behaviors. Working in collaboration with the USFWS, NMFS, DOE, and State agencies, the USGS S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center scientists have adapted and developed advanced telemetry technologies for fish passage studies and statistical analysis methods for fish passage evaluations. These advances can help maximize the return on labor- and cost-intensive studies that integrate fish behavior with hydraulic and physical characteristics of passage structures to improve passage design.

 

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Condor Flight Behavior Near Wind Energy Facilities

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

Scientists from the USGS, USFWS, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and BLM are using high-frequency GPS-GSM telemetry to study flight responses of California condors to understand the risk these raptors face from potential wind energy development. Tracking 24 condors for nearly 2 years, researchers found that although the condors only occasionally flew at altitudes in the rotor-swept zone of turbines, they regularly used classes of winds preferred by wind energy developers. The collision risk to large soaring birds from turbines should be relatively lower over flatter, less rugged areas and in habitat used during daytime soaring. This information can be used by wind energy developers to predict and avoid the risk to condors from existing and proposed turbines.

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Distribution and Abundance of Pacific Walrus in Relation to Offshore Development in Alaska

Science Center: Alaska Science Center

Increasing ice-free periods in the Arctic creates greater opportunities for offshore oil and gas development in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. These activities, and their reliance on onshore infrastructure and shipping, require information on the distribution of Pacific walrus and their habitats to identify ways for industry to operate effectively while meeting conservation goals set by government agencies. USGS scientists developed novel satellite radio tracking devices to map feeding areas used by walruses. These maps are used by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for managing vessel transit corridors. Scientists are now developing ways to use unmanned aircraft systems to estimate the abundance and distribution of Pacific walruses and their habitats in the Chukchi Sea. These studies have informed incidental take regulations and mitigation measures that can guide offshore development in minimizing interactions with walrus foraging and resting areas.

 

Wind and offshore wind icons

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.

 

Offshore wind power icon

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.

Photo collage of animal tagging and tracking

From left: Tagged sea lamprey (Credit: Andrea Miehls, USGS). USGS scientist tagging a duckling for a waterfowl study. Listening for radio signals from mule deer (Credit: Matthew Kauffman, USGS). Florida manatee with tracking device. USGS scientist Sarah Fitzgerald holding a surf scoter fitted with a satellite tag (Credit: Jonathan Fiely, USGS).

 

Oil and gas extraction icon

Florida Manatee Movement and Habitat Use in the Northern Gulf of Mexico 

Science Center: Wetland and Aquatic Research Center

USGS scientists are investigating the distribution of Florida manatees and their habitats and travel corridors in the northern GOM. Health assessments were performed on manatees known to travel to the northern GOM, and GPS tracking devices that provide telemetry to acquire fine-scale habitat use and movement were attached to the mammals. Scientists are also conducting field studies to characterize local resources in areas that support manatee habitat or consistent use. This information is being used to inform the risk of interactions between manatees and vessels traveling to and from oil and gas structures.

 

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Golden Eagle Migration and Habitat Use

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

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 GPS-GSM communications telemetry, standard 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.

 

wind and solar icons

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, 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, USFWS, and 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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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.

 

Offshore wind power icon

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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Tracking Bald Eagles Near Wind Energy Facilities in the Central Great Plains 

Science Center: Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center

The Central Great Plains is an important focus area for the development of new wind facilities. The USGS is leading an effort to track bald eagles using GPS-GSM telemetry to acquire information that will help wildlife managers address potential conflict between bald eagles and wind turbines in Oklahoma and collaborate on similar work in Iowa and Illinois. Scientists are collecting information on topography, weather, and land cover to understand how environmental conditions may put eagles at risk from collisions with turbines.