Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds

2021 Presidential Migratory Bird Stewardship Award Winner

The Council for the Conservation of Migratory Birds is pleased to announce the winner of the 2021 Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award. The United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) Wildlife Services (WS) was honored at this year’s Council meeting for their innovative work with Evaluating and Using Innovative Non-lethal Management Tools to Reduce Conflicts with and Simultaneously Conserve Large Native Birds in Hawai'i. 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.

Two men at an airport with dogs. Photo credit: USFWS

About the Winning Project

Project: Evaluating and Using Innovative Non-lethal Management Tools to Reduce Conflicts with and Simultaneously Conserve Large Native Birds in Hawai'i

Project Lead: United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) Wildlife Services (WS)

Partners: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS); USFWS James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge; U.S. Geological Survey, Bird Banding Laboratory; U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Navy; U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF); Federal Aviation Administration; Hawai'i Department of Transportation; Lihu'e Airport; Hawai'i Department of Forestry and Wildlife; Hokuala Resort; Non-governmental Organizations (e.g., Kaua'i Albatross Network, Na Aina Kai Botantical Gardens, Pacific Rim Conservation); Private consulting firms (e.g., Rana Biological, H. T. Harvey & Associates).

Description: The action undertaken by USDA-APHIS [specifically Wildlife Services (WS)] is a joint research-operational program with the goal of reducing human-wildlife conflicts associated with two species of large native Hawaiian birds that have substantial cultural significance - the Hawaiian goose or nēnē (Branta sandwichensis) and the Laysan albatross or mōlī (Phoebastria immutabilis). The program has both operational aspects that are conducted by the Hawai'i WS state program and research components that are implemented by WS’s National Wildlife Research Center.

The conflict management and species conservation issues addressed within the action involve a high-profile human health and safety issue, collisions between aircraft and native Hawaiian birds. Effectively managing conflicts between humans and culturally sensitive and/or federally Threatened & Endangered wildlife species can be costly and labor intensive; however, when working with birds that are charismatic and hold very high value in the public’s view, it is essential to consider these important social values within a decision model used to select the most effective and appropriate management technique(s) to resolve the situation. Research findings and operational experiences during the action have allowed for the development and implementation of more effective and precise decision-making models when considering methods to manage human-wildlife conflicts.

Through the action, operations and research personnel from USDA-APHIS effectively reduced the risk of Hawaiian goose-aircraft collisions and increased the potential for Hawaiian goose reproductive output (e.g., successfully fledging young) in favorable habitats through the use of a novel non-lethal hazing program that included the use of dogs (i.e., border collies).  Further, cutting-edge research was conducted during the implementation of this program to evaluate (1) the movements of Hawaiian geese and (2) behavioral responses of the Hawaiian geese to a novel stimulus (i.e., dog hazing).

In addition, USDA-APHIS operations and research personnel conducted and evaluated mitigation translocation actions to reduce the risk of Laysan albatross-aircraft collisions and to simultaneously deter Laysan albatross from nesting in a low-lying area highly susceptible to future rises in sea level.

The novel non-lethal management tools being developed and evaluated under this USDA-APHIS action (e.g., the use of border collies as a hazing tool, mitigation translocation of a non-raptor species) are now being considered for use to help resolve a variety of human health and safety, agricultural commodity protection, conservation of threatened and endangered species, and other problematic situations across the United States. For example, interest in the use of mitigation translocation as a non-lethal management tool in island ecosystems for species other Laysan Albatross [e.g., Hawaiian short-eared owl (Asio flammeus sandwichensis)] and other birds of conservation concern has been expressed by several state and federal agencies. Consequently, there is a high probability that the project actions will lead to future research and operational activities to reduce the frequency and severity of native Hawaiian bird-human conflicts while simultaneously providing conservation benefits to those migratory bird species.

Other Award Finalists

Other finalists for the award were as follows:

Addressing Conservation-Critical Information Needs of the Aleutian Tern

Two people banding a tern / USFWS

Lead Agencies: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service

Partners: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Oregon State University; University of Hawaii; University of Alaska; Alaska Department of Fish and Game; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Description: The Aleutian tern is a vulnerable seabird with a small global population and breeding sites restricted to coastal sites in Alaska and the Russian Far East. Populations at known breeding sites within Alaska have declined approximately 93% over the past 33 years and USDA Forest Service and their partners on this project have worked to identify and fix the causes. In response to our concerns over the species status, the USDA Forest Service initiated an informal working group in 2007. Then in 2016, the working group was formalized as the Aleutian Tern Technical Committee within the Pacific Seabird Group, with two Forest Service employees serving as co-chairs. Through this committee, the Forest Service has formally addressed critical information needs to identify conservation actions with our partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon State University, University of Hawaii, University of Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Collectively, and through Forest Service leadership, we have developed robust monitoring methods to implement a statewide monitoring strategy. Forest Service leadership can be seen in several ways, as chairs of the technical committee, through building coalitions and partnerships, securing and administering external grants, funding and implementing international work, and managing the largest and most persistent colonies on record. Our recent accomplishments include: coordinated population surveys at breeding colonies; monitoring using drones, acoustic recording devices, stable isotopes, and genetics; tagging and tracking to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines; international collaboration in Indonesia, Russia, and with other countries across the East Asian Flyway; and, coordinating annual conservation planning meetings for our large group of collaborators.

Burrowing Owl and Winter Raptor Monitoring on the Nevada National Security Site

Composit collection of Owl photos / USFWS

Lead Agency: Department of Energy (DOE)

Partners: Mission Support and Test Services, LLC (MSTS) is the M&O contractor for the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) administered by U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Nevada Field Office. Dr. Courtney Conway works for U.S. Department of Interior (U.S. Geological Survey). The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW).)

Description: Burrowing owl and winter raptor monitoring on the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) has been conducted over the last several years through a strong, collaborative effort involving Mission Support and Test Services, LLC, Dr. Courtney Conway (U.S. Geological Survey), and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). Multiple species of concern have benefited from this effort including the Burrowing Owl, Golden Eagle, American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. Burrowing owl monitoring included determining specific migration routes, wintering areas, and migration behavior with an innovative technique using lightweight, solar Platform Transmitter Terminal (PTT) transmitters to radio-track individual owls; investigating migratory linkages across western North America through genetic and stable isotope analyses; studying burrow and habitat use with monthly burrow checks; and documenting reproduction and activity patterns employing a novel approach using motion-activated cameras at active burrows. These efforts have resulted in the conservation of burrowing owls in many ways. Radio-tracking individual owls with solar PTT transmitters is revolutionizing how we study owl migration patterns and behavior and is providing critical information about migration routes, stopover sites, wintering areas, and potential threats that exist away from the NNSS during the non-breeding season that could contribute to population declines. Genetic and stable isotope analyses revealed that healthy rates of dispersal are needed from southern populations to help augment depleted northern populations, highlighting the need to maintain a thriving population of owls and a supply of persistent, suitable owl burrows on the NNSS. Locally, findings from NNSS studies led to multiple changes in our pre-activity survey procedure to survey disturbed areas (especially areas with partially buried culverts and pipes), conduct surveys year-round not just during the breeding season, and conduct surveys in the Great Basin Desert portion of the NNSS. NNSS found that establishing a 60-m buffer zone around active burrows during project activities minimizes disturbance to owls. Results also showed that using motion-activated cameras is a cost-effective way to document breeding status of owl pairs and measure productivity. Additionally, two new winter raptor survey routes were created in 2014 and are monitored each winter to document patterns in winter raptor and Loggerhead Shrike distribution and abundance on the NNSS. This has led to a better understanding of population trends and winter habitat use for several raptor species and the Loggerhead Shrike which will help determine the types of habitat that need to be protected to benefit these species and evaluate potential impacts of climate change to winter raptor community composition. These data are shared with NDOW and contribute to the state-wide monitoring effort. Golden Eagle data are shared with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of their Midwinter Bald Eagle Survey. Numerous publications, reports, and presentations regarding our Burrowing Owl and winter raptor monitoring efforts have generated a lot of interest from several countries and many other biologists in North America. Our monitoring and research efforts exceed U.S. Department of Energy’s legal mandates and stated mission for implementing bird conservation actions.

Last Updated: June 8, 2021