Bird monitoring at Mesa Verde highlights species of concern

Two highly rewarding science projects studying migratory birds are underway at Mesa Verde National Park, according to a written news release from the park. The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) project and a second park project managed through the Hummingbird Monitoring Network (HMN) are designed to help park managers and scientists understand population concerns and protection needs for nationally and internationally recognized migratory songbirds and hummingbirds, including the rufous hummingbird and several pinon-juniper woodland songbirds such as the plumbeous vireo, black-throated gray warbler, virginia’s warbler, juniper titmouse, gray flycatcher and ash-throated Flycatcher.

When most people think of Mesa Verde National Park, the first thing that comes to mind typically is Southwest archaeology. Most don’t know that Mesa Verde also has long been on the Audubon Society’s list of Colorado Important Bird Areas? This national park provides breeding habitat for several bird species of conservation concern.

In 1928, Congress called upon the National Park Service to protect Mesa Verde’s birds and other wildlife and the wooded habitats that support them. These and other park birds are part of Landbird Conservation Plans from the Partners in Flight Program, and are noted as international migratory birds of ‘Continental Importance.’ With this in mind, Mesa Verde has initiated these bird monitoring programs.

The Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAPS) project involves the placement of several large mist-nets in the pinon-juniper woodlands. During the early morning hours, from May through July, the nets are regularly checked and captured birds are carefully extracted from the nets, thoroughly measured and documented, and then banded with a sequentially numbered leg band before release.

The MAPS project will provide essential demographic information at the population level on a suite of migratory bird species shared with countries south of the U.S. border. This capture data is reinforced with substantial numbers of direct field surveys, called point-counts, performed by trained observers. This demographic information will provide park managers with science-based information essential to identifying prime sources of life-cycle problems for these species.

A second park project, managed through the Hummingbird Monitoring Network (HMN), captures, measures, and bands some of Mesa Verde’s breeding and migrating hummingbirds. These tiny bundles of feather and muscle return year after year to Mesa Verde, allowing researchers to track the numbers of returnees and gather other information. The rufous hummingbird, a species shared with Canada and Central America, has seen a species-wide population decline of 63 percent since 1968. Falling bird populations in national parks and elsewhere likely indicate that habitat in tropical wintering grounds, along migration routes, on American breeding grounds, or all of these areas are in need of conservation attention. By increasing knowledge about the park’s bird life, project participants hope to ensure that Mesa Verde’s tropical connection is not broken.

For more information, call George San Miguel at 529-5069.