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Response of nesting ferruginous hawks to energy development

Date: May 20, 2015


Ferruginous hawk instrumented with a solar GPS transmitter.
Ferruginous hawk instrumented with a solar GPS transmitter.
Over the past decade and a half, raptors nesting in prairie ecosystems have been subject to sharp increases in nearby energy development activity. From 2000 to 2006, the number of oil wells in Wyoming increased by 73 percent, and the number of natural gas wells by 318 percent. The management of avian species that depend on sage-steppe ecosystems is an important emerging issue across the western United States, in part due to this increased energy development. 

Current energy development overlaps with a significant portion of the nest habitat of ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) in Wyoming. Given reported sensitivities of ferruginous hawks to human disturbance, an important management issue is how to mitigate potential impacts of energy development to maintain sustained populations of nesting ferruginous hawks.   

This research documents how nesting ferruginous hawks forage in oil and gas energy fields based on GPS telemetry. The purpose is to help managers and companies reflect conservation needs of this species in the management and arrangement of energy-development infrastructure.   

Research Approach

In 2012, Station scientists and their collaborators initiated an integrated study on how ferruginous hawks respond to energy development. Airplanes and helicopters were used to survey for nesting ferruginous hawks in 100 townships randomly distributed across the Wyoming’s prairies. Surveys reflect a population of 1,894 nesting pairs of ferruginous hawks.

Researchers instrumented ferruginous hawks that nested in oil and gas fields with solar GPS transmitters to learn how they respond to the wells, roads, tanks, and human disturbance associated with the energy infrastructure. 

Key Findings

Forthcoming publications will describe how ferruginous hawks respond to energy developments based on hawk movements documented with GPS transmitters and detailed samples of prey abundance relative to the energy infrastructure. Findings will provide new understanding that helps land managers and industry develop prescriptions for energy fields that considers the habitat needs of this prairie raptor while providing energy to the American public.

Principal Investigators: 
External Partners: 
Robert Oakleaf, Wyoming Game and Fish (retired; Co-Investigator)
Bureau of Land Management
Oregon State University