[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                         July 10, 2009
News

SERDP funds bird studies at Fort McCoy

By Tim Wilder, The Real McCoy Contributor

If you are like many Wisconsin residents, you enjoy spending time outdoors. You may like to camp, hunt, hike, or simply sit on your front porch and listen to the birds. The woods and meadows now are alive with the sounds of male songbirds, trying to attract a mate by singing loudly from a perch within their territories.

Photo: Researcher Christina Rockwell carefully removes a gray catbird from a mist net at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Eric Wood)
Researcher Christina Rockwell carefully removes a gray catbird from a mist net at Fort McCoy. (Photo by Eric Wood)  

Unless you are an avid birder, you likely can identify only a handful of birds by their song.

Not so for Eric Wood, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, who is working on his doctorate degree. Wood can identify virtually every bird that resides on Fort McCoy just by hearing its distant and distinct call. Wood and his field crew have been roaming McCoy’s forests and grasslands for three consecutive summers conducting bird surveys.

This research is funded by the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). SERDP is the Department of Defense (DoD) environmental and technology program that conducts research to support the long-term sustainability of DoD’s training and testing ranges.

DoD lands are home to a large number of rare species, including numerous bird species. In particular, Fort McCoy is home to grassland- and savanna-dependent bird species including: grasshopper sparrows, redheaded woodpeckers, upland sandpipers, horned larks, dickcissels, field sparrows, lark sparrows, and orchard orioles.

Photo: Eric Wood, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, who is working on his doctorate degree is conducting bird surveys in the forests and grasslands of Fort McCoy. (Contributed photo) (An Extra to The Real McCoy Online)
Eric Wood, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student, who is working on his doctorate degree is conducting bird surveys in the forests and grasslands of Fort McCoy. (Contributed photo) (An Extra to The Real McCoy Online)

Wood’s research will provide information that assists Fort McCoy biologists in managing these species and their habitats while at the same time allowing the completion of the military mission.

Wood’s research at Fort McCoy has three main goals: 1) To develop a technique of predicting bird presence and abundance through air photo and satellite imagery interpretation; 2) To determine the importance of flowering oaks as a high-energy food resource for neo-tropical birds during spring migration; and 3) To determine the importance of savanna habitat types to birds throughout the breeding season.

To reach these goals, Wood and his crew conduct bird surveys at 330 locations throughout Fort McCoy multiple times each spring and summer. Vegetation data is collected at these locations to characterize the habitat, giving a picture of what is important for these bird species.

To determine the importance of flowering oaks as a food source, birds are captured to gain information on what they are eating.

To capture these birds, finely meshed mist nets are placed in natural flight corridors. A recording of the target species’ song often is used to attract birds to the area where they hopefully become entangled in the net.

Once the researchers have the bird in hand, they take samples of the stomach contents along with other biological data. The birds are not harmed during capture or handling and are released at the capture site.

(Wilder is the Fort McCoy Endangered Species Biologist for the Directorate of Public Works.)

 

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