The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has been investigating the breeding ecology of the mountain plover (Charadrius montanus
), a migratory shorebird that is a species of special concern in Colorado. Over 50% of the continental population of mountain plovers is believed to breed in eastern Colorado.
Plovers prefer to breed in upland habitats composed of bare ground or sparse vegetation, and on the eastern plains of Colorado use shortgrass prairie grasslands with and without black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and agricultural fields, particularly dryland.
The CPW has cooperated with other agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Natural Heritage Program) on research suggesting that nest survival rates among the shortgrass prairie habitats is similar.
Additionally, the CPW has continued to investigate other aspects of the plovers’ breeding ecology, including chick survival, by tracking radio-marked adults as they raise their broods. Research findings have suggested that survival of chicks and their movement activity after hatching do differ between the shortgrass prairie habitats. However, more detailed information on chick survival and ecology requires the ability to monitor individual chicks from hatching through fledging.
The CPW has being using radio telemetry to gather information on species such as deer, elk, and lynx. Only within the last few years have miniature-sized radio transmitters (≤ 0.35 grams) been developed to allow use on a 10 gram newly hatched mountain plover chick. Prior to using in the field to study mountain plover chick ecology, the CPW needed to determine the best method to attach transmitters to plover chicks, and whether transmitters appeared to have any negative impacts on the survival, growth, or activity of growing chicks.
In the spring and summer of 2007, the CPW conducted a captive study to evaluate the impacts of transmitters and explore alternative transmitter attachment techniques using surrogate species including bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus), chukar (Alectoris chukar), and killdeer (Charadrius vociferous) chicks from ≤2 d to >42 d post-hatch. Quail and chukar chicks were commercially available and allowed for replication of attachment methods on growing individuals. Killdeer were included based on close similarities in size, morphology, and growth rates to mountain plovers. Killdeer are also more abundant than mountain plovers and other successful studies on captives have aided in conservation of other plover species (e.g., Piping Plover).
This portion of the study examined four different types of transmitter attachment techniques; sutures, tissue glue, silicone glue, and leg harness. The experiment was conducted on one species at a time starting with quail, followed by chukar, then killdeer. With each species, each attachment technique was evaluated and refined for use on the next species.
Results suggested that the leg harness attachment technique is a suitable method with minimal to no observed impacts on survival of all three species. However, the timing of tail feather development differs between killdeer (~ 2 d old) and plover chicks (> 20 d old).
In 2008, chick survival and growth were compared between a group of 8 killdeer chicks and 1 mountain plover chick fitted with transmitters using a leg harness attachment, and a control group of 3 killdeer and 1 mountain plover chick with no transmitter. Growth and survival of chicks was similar between the two groups, suggesting that using chick transmitters attached with leg harnesses is a viable method for future studies of mountain plover chick ecology.
The CPW plans to initiate a new field study on cause-specific mortality of mountain plover chicks in 2009. Read the Avian Research Program Annual Progress Report for the latest information.
Comparative recruitment rates of Mountain Plovers
(Charadrius montanus) in Eastern Colorado
Principal Investigator: Victoria J. Dreitz
My primary research program estimates and compares reproductive parameters of Mountain Plovers on various habitat types including private croplands and public/private rangelands in eastern Colorado. Specifically, the current research project estimates and compares chick survival from hatching to 5-6 weeks post-hatch of Mountain Plovers on agricultural fields, rangeland and rangeland with prairie dogs. Further, I am examining whether potential differences in chick survival are due to prey abundance, biomass, and diversity between the habitats. This projected started spring of 2004 and is planned to continue with the collection of field data through 2006.
Geographic Structure and Dynamics in Mountain Plover
Principal Investigator: Michael B. Wunder, Colorado State University
The purpose of this research was to better understand potential impacts of land use decisions on Mountain Plover wintering grounds in Imperial County, California.
The study uses data from color banded individuals and stable isotopes. Stable isotopes are a relative new methodology and their efficacy is not well understood. The research derives a modeling framework to better reflect the state of knowledge about staple isotopes.
This project was conducted by Michael B. Wunder (Michael.Wunder@Colostate.edu), a Ph.D. student at Colorado State University advised by Dr. Barry Noon and Dr. Fritz Knopf. CPW collaborators included Francie Pusateri (Francie.Pusateri@state.co.us) and Victoria Dreitz (Victoria.Dreitz@state.co.us).
Spring 2007 – Completed Dissertation by Michael B. Wunder