Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds

2019 Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award Winner

The Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds is pleased to announce the winner of the 2019 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award. The U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) Pantex Plant was honored at this year’s Council meeting for their innovative work with Swainson’s Hawks, Purple Martins, and other birds across the Western Hemisphere. The Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award annually recognizes a single project or action conducted by or in partnership with a Federal agency that meets the intent and spirit of Executive Order 13186 by focusing on migratory bird conservation.

DOE and NNSA Pantex Plant receive award. Photo credit: USFWS

Caption: Award winners. Pictured (from left to right) are Chris Cantwell, DOE/NNSA Pantex Plant; Beverly Whitehead, DOE; Jerome Ford, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; James Ray, DOE/NNSA Pantex Plant; and Josh Silverman, DOE.

About the Winning Project

Project: Pantex-A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Contributing to Migratory Bird Conservation across Hemispheres

Project Lead: Department of Energy /Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (Pantex Plant)

Partners: Texas Tech University (including the USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit), West Texas A&M University, University of Manitoba (Canada), York University (Canada), Purple Martin Conservation Association, Disney World Wide Fund, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and many property owners and volunteers.

Description: The Pantex Plant increased its on-going research, collaborations, and outreach programs in 2017 and 2018. Pantex added an additional partner, the Texas Ornithological Society, which donated geolocators to Pantex staff for deployment on Purple Martins.

Pantex sponsored collaborations continued the monitoring of nine species of concern and other birds in plots associated with wind energy research (West Texas A&M University), transitioned the Swainson’s Hawk research to juveniles (Texas Tech University; including the USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit), and continued with analyses of data gathered on Swainson’s Hawks throughout the Hawk’s annual travels through North, Central and South America. Pantex continued to collaborate with and provide a sixth deployment site for geolocators and G.P.S. data-loggers as part of an international collaboration that has now documented and characterized core stopover regions and durations (Yucatan and Central America) and specific wintering sites of the declining Purple Martin across the Amazon Basin. The collaboration is already visiting roost sites and building relationships with managers and researchers in Brazil.

The Pantex banding and outreach program fostered continued staff participation in a graduate-level class project (Texas Tech University) which has led to a peer-reviewed journal article, the start-up of a legacy Purple Martin housing and research project for the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society (Texas Tech University), and has now resulted in the banding of more than 12,000 Purple Martins and several publications.

Pantex continued mapping of prairie dog colonies on the facility as part of a management plan that assures preferred prairie dog-manipulated habitat for four previously mentioned special status species, including Western Burrowing Owls. During 2017 and 2018, Pantex collaborations and staff shared findings and management implications from migratory bird projects through 17 technical/conference presentations and posters, four magazine articles, three peer-reviewed journal articles, and two other scholarly articles which are in review or press.

Other agency sites continued to express interest in implementing “the Pantex research model” or collaborating with the site (Las Alamos National Lab, Y-12, Oak Ridge National Lab). As testimony to the success and respect of the Pantex program, there have been three instances of university researchers wanting to include Pantex and staff in applications for grants. Building off the successes of its contributions to migratory bird conservation, Pantex has used this successful model as a springboard for similar collaborations under the national pollinator initiative. Pantex recommendations have led to USDOE/NNSA sponsorship of a Raptor Research Foundation conference and a new purple martin colony at the Amarillo Zoo.

Considering the high-level issues, data collected, shared management implications, and on-site protection strategies, the Pantex partnership may benefit the full suite (442 species) of birds that breed in, migrate through, and winter in the Southern Great Plains. Research plot data include 28 special status species and 26 others have been documented using the site. Multitudes of bird species and individuals fly through, rest, and feed on the Pantex property during migration, and all the while they must navigate through many potential threats and an ever-growing number of wind farms. Students working on projects are graduating well-versed in migratory bird issues and advanced technology. Some, having tracked Swainson’s Hawks and Purple Martins across the Americas have already contributed to migratory bird conservation of hemispheric or global significance.

To see more project details, view the   project abstract (181.5KB)

Other Award Finalists

Other finalists for the award were as follows:

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in Coordination with the United States Geological Survey (USGS): Eastern brown pelicans: dispersal, seasonal movements, and monitoring of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other contaminants in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Brown Pelican with transmitter/Steve Desaivre

Lead Agencies: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in coordination with the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

Partners: Patrick Jodice (USGS), Juliet S. Lamb (Clemson University), Jeff Gleason (USFWS), Dave Moran (BOEM), Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, Texas Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Tulane University, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, USDA/ Mississippi State University, Clemson Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Buffalo State University

Description: Studies of seabirds have historically been limited to the breeding season, with limited data being available throughout the remainder of the annual cycle. Bird-borne biologgers were used to collect highly accurate location and movement data from eastern brown pelicans throughout the annual cycle. Individual breeders quickly returned to normal behavior after capture and tagging. Processed GPS locations totaled 169,000 points from 77 individual pelicans. GPS tracking indicated that pelicans were highly mobile, ranging over large areas during the breeding season and migrating up to 2,500 kilometers during non-breeding. Movement patterns were influenced by local conspecific competition during both breeding and migration, such that birds from larger colonies moved longer distances year-round compared to those from smaller colonies.

The study results suggest that prey availability and delivery rates are more important to reproductive rates than energetic value of prey species. A previously vetted integrated measure of nutritional stress during development, feather corticosterone, did well as a predictor of nestling survival and fledging rates. Corticosterone predicted 94% of inter-colony variation in fledging success and was also correlated with post-fledging survival, making it a powerful tool for measuring demographic patterns in brown pelicans.

Use of established modelling techniques showed that a high degree of spatial, temporal, and individual variation in exposure to surface pollutants across the population interacted with a high degree of individual variation in movement to create a complex and varying distribution of risk throughout the northern Gulf metapopulation of brown pelicans. This risk serves as a baseline for detection of otherwise unmeasurable future changes that may be observed in the areas of intermediate risk (Western Planning Area) and high risk (Central Planning Area). In addition, a baseline is established for possible future oil and gas activities and any related pollution risk in the Eastern Planning Area if the years-old drilling moratorium in effect for most of the area is ever lifted.

Contaminant sample analysis for young and adult brown pelicans remains to be done, and the study will be ongoing through December, 2018.

National Park Service (NPS): Disturbance and Recovery of Sooty Tern Nesting in Dry Tortugas National Park

Sooty Tern/Meaghan Johnson/NPS

Lead Agency: National Park Service

Partners: Dr. Stuart Pimm and Rebecca Cope (Duke University), Sonny Bass (NPS Emeritus)

Description: The Sooty Tern (Onychoprion fuscatus) is a pelagic seabird found throughout tropical waters and nests on rocky or coral islands.  Due to its widespread distribution and long life history, they are an important ecological indicator of the health of the world's oceans.  As part of a joint initiative by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the National Park Service, the nesting colony on Bush Key in Dry Tortugas National Park has been the subject of a 16-year monitoring effort to track changes in nesting population and plant community on the island.  Surveys from this work have been used by Duke University to assess the impacts of large disturbances on sooty tern nesting habitat and numbers.  In 2005, a significant hurricane season reduced available nesting habitat by over 70%.  By 2013, available habitat had recovered to 92% of pre-disturbance levels.  Through this work, Bush Key has shown to provide a stable and resilient habitat for sooty terns during the breeding season.  However, if the intensity and frequency of hurricanes continue, this may shorten the recovery time between large disturbances, making this breeding colony less resilient.  Continued monitoring is essential to address emerging threats to the vegetation as well as the nesting colony.

Last Updated: June 11, 2019