The Migratory Bird Program in the FWS utilizes remotely sensed data to survey migratory birds, conduct research on bird migration and habitat use, evaluate habitat conditions, and manage migratory bird populations and habitat through Joint Ventures, a collaborative, regional partnership of government agencies, non-profit organizations, corporations, tribes, and individuals that conserves habitat for priority bird species, other wildlife, and people.
Migratory Bird Program biologists rely on remotely sensed data to plan bird surveys, delineate survey strata, place transects and to identify habitat boundaries. The western Gulf Coast mottled duck aerial survey, a joint effort of the FWS, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, utilizes the Chabreck-Linscombe coastal vegetation map derived from helicopter transect sampling using sampling sites along each transect to delineate salt and freshwater marsh habitat along the Gulf coast. Aerial sea duck and seabird transect surveys along the U.S. Atlantic coast were designed using bathymetry data from the NOAA NGDC Coastal Relief Model to delineate substrates used by foraging diving ducks. In 2011, a research study investigating detection bias along road routes for mourning dove count surveys used aerial imagery to locate off-road survey points within a specified distance of houses and human disturbance.
Within the FWS Branch of Population and Habitat Assessment, MODIS satellite imagery is used to evaluate daily ice and snow cover and develop forecasts for goose production in remote portions of the high western Arctic breeding range.
To evaluate habitat conditions for Arctic geese populations, migratory bird biologists use daily ice maps of the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic generated by National Ice Center analysts using imagery from ENVISAT, DMSP, AVHRR, and RADARSAT sensors.
Migratory Bird Program and refuge biologists collaborated with the USGS in a proof-of-concept project using small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to estimate the number of sandhill cranes at migration sites on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado. Biologists conducted ground surveys of roost sites surveyed by thermal sensors on the Raven RQ-11A UAS to evaluate the effectiveness of the thermal sensors for detecting cranes. http://rmgsc.cr.usgs.gov/UAS/sandHillCraneProj.shtml
Raven Unmanned Areal System (UAS) used to detect sandhill cranes
Raven UAS flight tracks over the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge
Raven UAS thermal image of sandhill cranes
Satellite telemetry is an important tool for investigating migratory bird movements at continental scales. In 2011, the third year of a four year study, 27 sandhill cranes with solar-powered GPS satellite transmitters were monitored travelling from their summer territories in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario to their winter ranges in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. Weekly crane movements are posted on the project’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Eastern-Population-Sandhill-Crane-Monitoring-Project/279069252152006
Sandhill Crane track map as of April 16, 2012 on Facebook
Sea ducks are another group of birds which have been monitored using satellite telemetry. Due to concerns about declining populations in the Atlantic Flyway, the Sea Duck Joint Venture has been tracking sea ducks (black, surf, and white-winged scoters, and long-tailed ducks) since 2009 to identify key habitat areas used for staging, molting, and wintering areas. Telemetry data from black scoters have provided a completely new view of their breeding range. As a result of this study, a new area has been identified as an Area of Continental Significance to North American Ducks, Geese and Swans in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.
FWS’s Division of Bird Habitat Conservation staff use a variety of remotely sensed data to survey habitat quality for breeding and wintering birds. In the Prairie Pothole region, this group conducts an annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Production Estimates Survey to assess the contributions of National Wildlife Refuge System lands to continental waterfowl populations. Color infrared aerial photos of 186 four-square mile sample plots in Minnesota and 60 plots in Iowa are acquired annually to assess habitat conditions. These plots are surveyed by ground and helicopter to estimate waterfowl abundance and productivity during the breeding season. http://www.fws.gov/midwest/hapet/
Habitat Joint Ventures (JVs) are responsible for migratory bird habitat conservation and management as directed by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Many JVs use a range of remotely sensed habitat data to guide and monitor conservation efforts. For example, the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region - JVs used data from a variety of sources including the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) and National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD) to create decision-support maps which guide conservation delivery on the ground. These maps use population abundance and distribution data coupled with land cover (NLCD), soils (STATSGO), and wetland (NWI) data for cover types used by breeding focal species and nonbreeding bird guilds. Locations identified by the maps as important breeding/nonbreeding areas are priorities for habitat maintenance and protection and/or restoration.
Restoration, Maintenance, Protection priority map derived from NLCD, NWI and STATSGO GIS layers for the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes Joint Ventures
The Gulf Coast Joint Venture (GCJV) developed population and habitat objectives for fall transient shorebird species that use inland and (or) managed wetlands, such as waterfowl impoundments, rice fields, and aquaculture ponds. http://www.gcjv.org/contact.php
These shallow water/mudflat habitats are assumed to have limited availability during the period of southbound shorebird migration (July 15-November 5) in the Gulf coastal plain. To determine the variability of this habitat, and the between- and within-year variability, the GCJV classified Landsat satellite imagery from 1999, 2002, and 2004 into four classes: water, flooded vegetation, saturated soil, and other. Groundtruth data were collected to estimate the proportion of shallow versus deep water in the inland/agricultural zone. This proportion was then applied to the total water acreage derived from the classifications to determine a final amount of shallow water habitat as well as to refine saturated soil estimates generated by utilizing a Tasseled Cap transformation to derive a "wetness" threshold value. This information will be used to identify habitat deficits and focus future conservation efforts for fall transient shorebirds.
Gulf Coast Shorebird Habitat Availability Map http://www.gcjv.org/chenier.php