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Birds not in flight: Using camera traps to observe ground use of birds at a wind-energy facility

December 12, 2021

Context: Camera trapping is increasingly used to collect information on wildlife occurrence and behaviour remotely. Not only does the technique provide insights into habitat use by species of interest, it also gathers information on non-target species.

Aims: We implemented ground-based camera trapping to investigate the behaviours of ground-dwelling birds, a technique that has largely been unutilised for studying birds, especially in wind-energy facilities.

Methods: We used camera traps to monitor activities of Agassiz’s desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) at their self-constructed burrows in a wind-energy facility near Palm Springs, California, USA. While doing so, we collected data on numerous burrow commensals, including birds.

Key results: Monitoring from late spring to mid-autumn in one year showed regular use of tortoise burrows and the immediate area by 12 species of birds, especially passerines. The most abundant species, as indicated by the number of photographs, but not necessarily individuals, was the rock wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), with a total of 1499 events. Birds appeared to use the interior or proximate vicinity of burrows for gathering nesting material, displaying, feeding, dust bathing and other activities. Of the bird species observed, 10 are known to be occasional casualties of turbine-blade strikes. The minimum known-age of a burrow had a positive relationship with bird counts.

Conclusions: Using camera traps focused at ground level can be a useful tool in avian conservation efforts because it is an effective technique for measuring bird presence, activity and behaviour in altered habitats such as wind farms, especially for those species that are low flyers or ground dwellers.

Implications: Acquiring data over the long term by using ground-based monitoring with camera traps could add to our understanding of avian behaviour and habitat use in relation to wind-energy infrastructure and operations, and help determine the vulnerability of avifauna that utilise the area.

Publication Year 2021
Title Birds not in flight: Using camera traps to observe ground use of birds at a wind-energy facility
DOI 10.1071/WR21071
Authors Shellie R. Puffer, Laura A. Tennant, Jeffrey E. Lovich, Mickey Agha, Amanda L. Smith, David Delaney, Terence R. Arundel, Leo J. Fleckenstein, Jessica Briggs, Andrew Walde, Joshua Ennen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Research
Index ID 70227043
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center