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Integrated Population Model for the Mountain Plover in Montana

Mountain Plover   Rachel Siller

This landscape-scale collaborative research project will provide the first assessment of annual cycle movements and population limiting factors of the Mountain Plover, a species that has experienced significant long-term declines. The results of this project will provide land management agencies critical information about where the species population may be limited and identify important areas for conservation throughout the annual cycle. The information will allow conservation planners and land managers to develop effective conservation strategies for the species. Without this information, we’ll continue to lack critical information to most effectively conserve and manage priority landscapes, and ultimately slow or reverse the declines of the Mountain Plover and the larger suite of focal grassland birds. Rachel Siller, a Ph.D. student in my lab at Iowa State University, will lead this project in collaboration with Scott Somershoe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado.

This study will fill critical information gaps about Mountain Plover adult and juvenile survival, movements throughout the annual cycle, especially filling significant information gaps about wintering sites, and identify population limiting factors. We will monitor Mountain Plover nests and trap adult and juveniles for color-banding and tracking with GPS tags in Phillips County, Montana. We plan to tag and track at least 30 adults and 30 juvenile plovers during the first two field seasons and continue nest monitoring and data recovery in a third field season. We propose to attach 3.5 g Milsar tags that will record GPS location, speed, and altitude, among other measurements, and store all data until transmitted to a receiving station. We will also explore potential use of Argos GPS tags for real time location information, which would be especially valuable for identifying wintering sites. Mountain Plovers at the study site show high rates of site fidelity (>80% for adults) and we are confident we will be able to relocate birds and retrieve data. Tracking individuals throughout the annual cycle will provide information that will identify breeding season use of prairie dog colonies, migration pathways, stopover sites, and wintering grounds, while providing information to identify population limiting factors.