Tuesday, May 01, 2012


This past week I was awarded the Michael W. Butler Ecological Research Award! This funding will greatly enhance my field research which kicks off it's second year in just a few weeks. My deepest thank you to the Butlers for making this award possible. Here's the award announcement:

The Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University is pleased to announce Robert Miller as the 2012 recipient of the MICHAEL W. BUTLER ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH AWARD. This scholarship was established with generous contributions from Mike’s parents, Bill and Sue Butler. The award is given annually to a graduate student conducting ecological research at Boise State University. Preference is given to applicants actively involved in promoting and enhancing the graduate program within our department. Robert, working under the supervision of Professor Dr. Marc Bechard and Research Assistant Professor Dr. Jay Carlisle, is studying the breeding ecology of Northern Goshawks with the unique forest environment of the Sawtooth National Forest. Specifically Robert is examining three key questions associated with the Northern Goshawk: 1) what prey do goshawks eat in this unique forest environment; 2) which prey item is most influential for nest occupancy and success; and 3) what effect does forest structure and health have on nest occupancy and success.
30ft up a tree installing a nest camera.
Previous research in many parts of the world has shown that the top diet choice of goshawks during the breeding season is tree squirrels. Furthermore, tree squirrel abundance has had the largest predictive influence on goshawk nest success. However, tree squirrels are naturally absent from the southern part of the Sawtooth National Forest. This absence would have us predict that goshawks would have a difficult time reproducing within this forest. To the contrary, goshawk breeding density is high and success is on par with other areas. Beyond the unique dietary aspects of the goshawk, their use of the forest is also unique. Goshawks are known to occupy mature forests with dense canopy cover, yet the forest within the southern Sawtooth National Forest is lightly forested with only approximately 20% landcover. The health of this forest is also under threat through our historical forest management practices, providing a unique opportunity to investigate the adaptability of this forest predator.

To evaluate these key questions, Robert will install digital nest cameras within a series of goshawk nests to identify and quantify the goshawk diet during the breeding season for comparison with other studies. Prey surveys will be performed within each goshawk territory to establish a relative abundance of avian and mammalian prey items which will be used to predict goshawk nest occupancy and success. Forest structure will be evaluated using Geographic Information System technologies to establish nest site preferences. Nest stand health will be measured in the field and also related to nest occupancy and success. This study will advance the scientific knowledge of this sensitive forest predator, will deliver specific management recommendations to the forest service, and help the forest service evaluate the goshawk as a proposed local management indicator species.

Robert joined the raptor biology graduate program in fall 2010 after a successful undergraduate career and working a few years with the Idaho Bird Observatory.  His undergraduate research project with IBO was focused on the effect of regional cold fronts on the autumn migration of songbirds and raptors through Idaho. This research was successfully published in The Condor, one of the top avian journals in the country. He continues climate based research with the Idaho Bird Observatory in addition to his core thesis work and the demands of teaching Biology 192 Laboratory. In addition, he is currently mentoring two undergraduate students on their own research. Robert maintains a personal and research blog at http://blog.raptorrob.com/ .
Congratulations Robert, and many thanks to the Butlers for making this award possible!