Sunday, October 09, 2011

Raptor Research Foundation - Duluth, MN

I just returned from a fabulous three days in Duluth Minnesota attending the Raptor Research Foundation annual conference. About 200 attendees from all around the world were there presenting their research and hearing about the work of others. I presented the preliminary results of my first field season in the form of a poster.

2011 RRF Poster (click to enlarge).

The poster session featured 24 posters, five of which were presented by Boise State Raptor Biology students! The session was well attended! I had a steady stream of visitors reviewing my poster and asking questions. Discussing my work with the top raptor researchers in the world was fantastic. I was discussing my findings with the people who know the Northern Goshawk as well as anyone. I discussed goshawk diet with falconers, statistics with statisticians, predator-prey relations with prey experts, owls with owl experts (regarding my recent video of a goshawk eating an owl), compared goshawk diets to Cooper's Hawk diets, the challenges of video recording systems, etc. I received strong confirmation of my work, but also great suggestions on how to make it better. It was definitely well worth the investment!

During the presentation sessions, I learned about the current state of pesticides and raptors (not pretty), the state of persecution against raptors (even uglier), the effect of wind farms on raptors (not as bad, but still a significant issue), new statistical approaches (cool, but maybe ugly for some...), and new monitoring techniques (unmanned vehicles!). As I have commented about other conferences, this whirlwind of information was cut down into 20 minute segments. My brain struggled to keep up and change from topic to topic. I have pages of notes to follow up on and have generated over 30 suggestions to integrate into my year one report and my plan for year two. Hopefully I will be able to attend again next year in Vancouver.

Special thanks to the Raptor Research Center at Boise State for partially funding my trip!

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Hard-wired!

One thing you quickly notice when working with predators is that many of them seem hard-wired to attack prey when the opportunity presents itself. This is especially prevalent in predators that do not have a regular feeding schedule. If you may not get another chance to eat in the next week, and there is easy prey in front of you, take it. Even if you have just consumed another meal and could not possibly eat more. This may seem nonsensical to some, but this "attack without thinking" approach is probably what has made many raptors so successful from an evolutionary perspective.
When trapping and handling the various raptor species we come to better understand the different temperaments of the species. While each individual exhibits its own personality, the personalities within a given species are highly similar. My primary study species, the Northern Goshawk, is in a genus known as Accipiter. The three North American species within this genus are reasonably high strung and reasonably hard-wired attack predators. As a result when we are trapping them, we often find that their crop, a storage place in their throat for food, is already full, yet they were trying to attack our lure.
This last Wednesday, while another raptor biology student (Neil) and I were trapping raptors at the Idaho Bird Observatory, Neil captured a hatch year (juvenile) Cooper's Hawk. The crop on the Cooper's Hawk was so full that it even had food in its mouth. Yet this bird was diving to attack a dove! Did it possibly think it could eat more. No, probably not, but it was hard-wired to take prey when it presents itself. Fascinating.
Cooper's Hawk with bulging crop (whole neck area) and a full mouth!