Attending both scientific and general conferences to share findings with other researchers and the public is a priority for the Migration Research Foundation.  Abstracts and/or brief notes on conferences at which we have presented are listed below in reverse chronological order.

Raptor Research Foundation - October 2011 - Duluth, Minnesota
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) occupancy, detectability, and habitat use across seasons on Amherst Island and Wolfe Island in Eastern Ontario, Canada
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-authors Kristen Keyes, Kurt Hennige, and David Bird
In general, population trends of North American Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) have been based on monitoring schemes that are not designed to detect crepuscular species. The lack of management plans is due in large part to a scarcity of information on important habitat during the wintering and breeding seasons. We therefore developed and evaluated a visual survey protocol, and investigated year-round habitat use based on comparison of ‘used’ and ‘available’ sites. Weekly surveys were conducted at 45 sites for 25 wks between November 2009 and July 2010. Using the program Presence to assess occupancy (i.e. proportion of sites occupied) and detectability (i.e. probability of detecting Short-eared Owls during a single survey, given at least one is present), the model that assumed constant detectability was a poorer fit than that which accounted for the effects of differing site and survey characteristics. According to the survey- specific model, our protocol was precise; observed and predicted occupancy was similarly low during the winter (0.18 (O), 0.19 ± 0.06 (P)), and during the breeding season (0.24 (O), 0.25 ± 0.07 (P)). Detectability was generally low based on the constant model (wintering 0.31 ± 0.05; breeding 0.31 ± 0.05), but was quite variable depending on the week (wintering 0.00 to 0.83 ± 0.15; breeding 0.00 to 0.79 ± 0.19), thus indicating the need for repeated surveys. We used logistic regression to investigate correlation of 12 habitat variables with Short-eared Owl presence or absence. During the winter, the forest cover class was weakly significant and negatively correlated (P = 0.09) with occurrence; grazed grassland and scattered trees were both significantly (P ≤ 0.05) and positively correlated with occurrence during the breeding season. We advocate the careful consideration of these habitat variables in future management plans, and suggest wide use of this protocol to monitor population trends.

Raptor Research Foundation - October 2011 - Duluth, Minnesota
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) nest site characteristics, success, and associated threats on Amherst Island and Wolfe Island in Eastern Ontario, Canada
Presented by Kristen Keyes; co-authors Marcel Gahbauer and David Bird
In recent decades, the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) has experienced a severe population decline across North America. Little information exists concerning nest site characteristics, nesting success, or causes of reproductive failure. We monitored seven breeding territories on Amherst Island and Wolfe Island during the breeding seasons of 2009 and 2010. On Amherst Island, territories were concentrated in the south-central region of the island in 2009 and towards the eastern end in 2010, indicating a possible inclination for loose nesting aggregations. Five of seven territories were located on grazed grassland where vascular plants typically grown for pasture and/or hay were common. The combination of wooden fence posts and page wire fencing was frequent on territories, possibly due to a preference for wooden versus metal posts for perching, an avoidance of electric or barbed wire fencing, and/or because this type of fencing commonly surrounded sites where owls nested. Of four nests discovered, all were within 540 m of a wetland, and within 1,500 m of a human dwelling. Mean elevation and vegetation height at nests discovered at the egg and/or nestling stage were 81.3 m asl and 54.8 cm, respectively (n = 3). A general decrease in vegetation height was observed with distance from the nest, but relative elevation was variable. Mean composition of vegetation at these nests consisted of 70% grasses, 25% herbs and 5% bare ground; percentage cover of grasses was less away from the nest, but that of herbs and bare ground was greater. The Short-eared Owl appears to use nest sites that provide greater concealment and protection from predators. Five of seven nests fledged young and mean fledgling success was 2.1 young per nest. Causes of nestling and fledgling mortality included mammalian (i.e. raccoon, Procyon lotor) depredation, avian (i.e. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus) depredation, and nest destruction by farm machinery.

Raptor Research Foundation - October 2011 - Duluth, Minnesota
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) spatial origins across North America: a stable isotope approach
Presented by Kristen Keyes; co-authors Marcel Gahbauer, Keith Hobson, Steven Van Wilgenburg, and David Bird
Many aspects of Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) natural history are poorly understood, including the extent to which the species may be nomadic, migratory and/or philopatric. Deuterium stable isotope analysis is a commonly used technique for addressing such ecological questions, based on defined latitudinal trends in precipitation (Dp) that are incorporated into feathers (Df). We employed this approach to study Short-eared Owl spatial origins across continental North America. Using museum samples from 46 juveniles at known locations, we calibrated two species-specific feather isoscapes based on a growing season deuterium isoscape and a raptor-specific deuterium isoscape (Dr). Slightly more variation was explained by a regression analysis of Dp and Df than that of Dr and results suggest that different growing season deuterium isoscape was used to investigate spatial origins. We prepared two maps to graphically represent the frequency of Short-eared Owl occurrence. The first map represented results of all feathers sampled (n = 147), thus all previous locations, and the second map displayed results of the first primary feather (P1) (n = 69), which is most likely to be grown on the breeding grounds. Maps were similar, with the greatest concentration of Short-eared Owls appearing to be within central Alaska and across western Canada. However, this is partially a result of sampling locations. At least three owls were sampled in each of 10 locales (i.e. specific geographic areas such as eastern New York state), and results from five locales within the year-round range indicated that breeding likely occurred at more northerly latitudes. However, an examination of differences between two generations of feathers from five owls indicated possible site fidelity within the yrround range. Thus, our results suggest that different movement strategies may exist regionally across North America, and we advocate further use of this technique to better understand Short-eared Owl movements.

Raptor Research Foundation - October 2011 - Duluth, Minnesota
Continental movements of Short-eared Owls as shown by banding and satellite telemetry
Poster prepared by Geoff Holroyd; co-authors Christian Artuso, Debbie Badzinski, Travis Booms, Jim Duncan, Marcel Gahbauer, Jim Johnson, Peter Nye, and Helen Trefry.
Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus) breed from the arctic to southern United States and winter from southern Canada to central Mexico. This simple range description ignores the high variability in the occurrence of this species dependent on the abundance of small mammals, their primary food. Bird banding encounters provide limited information on the species movements. Small, 9.5 gm, solar powered satellite transmitters provide continuous and real-time information on the movements of Short-eared Owls. In the past three years transmitters have been placed on this species from Alaska to eastern North America. The transmitters indicate that some owls appear to have a ‘migration’, but many others are ephemeral with large-scale breeding dispersal. This poster summarized a wide variety of telemetry studies across the continent.

Society of Canadian Ornithologists annual meeting - August 2011 - Moncton, New Brunswick
First six years at McGill Bird Observatory:  Yellow-rumped Warbler fluctuations and other discoveries
Presented by Marcel A. Gahbauer; co-authors Marie-Anne Hudson, Simon Duval, Barbara Frei, and Gay Gruner
McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) was established in Ste‐Anne‐de‐Bellevue, Quebec in 2004, with standardized spring and fall migration monitoring programs beginning in 2005. While MBO’s long‐term goals focus on contributing to population monitoring as part of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network, efforts to date have already generated some noteworthy findings. From 2005 through 2010, 202 species have been observed and over 30,000 individuals of 107 species have been banded, including more Yellow‐rumped Warblers (5164) than any other species. The fall numbers of Yellow‐rumped Warblers have shown a remarkably dramatic two‐year pattern, with the mean number banded in “even” years (2006, 2008, 2010: 1538) more than ten times higher than in odd years (2005, 2007, 2009: 110). A few other warbler species (e.g. Tennessee, Blackpoll, Canada) have mirrored this pattern to a lesser extent, while Swamp Sparrow is the only species that has consistently been much more abundant in odd years. Other species banded at MBO in particularly high numbers include American Robin (total of 1928 banded), Song Sparrow (1721), and Slate‐colored Junco (1737), all of which present good opportunities for species‐specific research. Noteworthy recoveries include several species showing site fidelity either as a staging site during molt (e.g. Tennessee and Nashville Warblers) or as a wintering location (e.g. Slate‐colored Junco, American Tree Sparrow), and direct foreign recoveries including Northern Saw‐whet Owl, Nashville Warbler, and Yellow‐rumped Warbler. These and other results were presented to illustrate the research opportunities arising as a by‐product of migration monitoring.

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources - September 2010 - Keene, Ontario
Quinte Field Naturalists - October 2010 - Belleville, Ontario
Prince Edward County Field Naturalists - October 2010 - Bloomfield, Ontario
Société Québécoise pour l'Étude Biologique du Comportement - November 2010 - Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec
Aspects of year-round habitat use and breeding ecology of the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in eastern Ontario
Presented by Kristen Keyes
The Short-eared Owl is an open-country, cosmopolitan species that is generally considered nomadic, moving in relation to cyclic vole (Microtus spp.) populations.  According to Breeding Bird Survey data, the species suffered a mean annual decline of 4.6% from 1966 through 2005 across North America, which corresponds to a cumulative loss of about 85%.  In Canada, the Short-eared Owl has had Special Concern status since 1994, although the updated 2008 report by COSEWIC indicated that it nearly meets the criteria for Threatened status. It is unclear what exactly has caused this population decline since important aspects of the owl’s biology remain poorly understood.  We investigated habitat use during the breeding and wintering seasons via the development of a novel Short-eared Owl volunteer roadside survey protocol, and intensive landscape inventories at ‘used’ (n=25) versus all ‘available’ sites (n=66).  Also, aspects of the breeding biology of seven owl pairs were assessed, including nest site characteristics, fledging success and causes of mortality.  Fieldwork was conducted in 2009 and 2010 on Amherst Island and Wolfe Island near Kingston, Ontario.

Buck Lake Association - July 2010 - Perth Road Village, Ontario
Birds of Prey of Buck Lake
Presented by Kristen Keyes
Each summer, the Buck Lake Association presents a public lecture on a topic related to the ecology of the immediate area.  This year, the talk focused on the identification of the sixteen species of raptors most often seen during the breeding season in the Buck Lake area.  The audience ranged from very young children to the elderly, and it was a very lively, interactive evening including a most welcomed audio and visual quiz!

Neilson Store Museum and Cultural Centre - June 2010 - Amherst Island, Ontario
Wildlife Preservation Canada - September 2010 - Napanee, Ontario
Betsy the Bovine and Stella the Short-eared Owl: A closer look at cooperative conservation of our imperiled grasslands
Presented by Kristen Keyes (jointly with Chantal Cloutier on Amherst Island)
It is a depressing fact that grasslands are the most imperiled ecosystem on the face of the planet.  This presentation reviewed what defines a ‘grassland’, and various statistics that indicate drastic declines in the flora and fauna that occupy this precious ecosystem.  As well, the talk included a review of several grassland avian species at risk in Ontario, with a special focus on the Migration Research Foundation’s Short-eared Owl research on Amherst Island and Wolfe Island.  Realistic, feasible solutions for farmers and members of the general public, that may help to halt or reverse the current downward population trend of many species, were discussed.  The presentation and accompanying suggestions were well received, and it was productive to discuss other options for cooperative stewardship with the many farmers who were in attendance at both venues.

Lennox & Addington Stewardship Council - March 2010 - Amherstview, Ontario
Kingston Field Naturalists - March 2010 - Kingston, Ontario
Owls that don't give a hoot: A closer look at the Short-eared Owl
Presented by Kristen Keyes (jointly with Hazel Wheeler of Bird Studies Canada in Kingston)
Within the context of current concerns regarding observed declines in the North American Short-eared Owl population, the presentation focused on research to date by the Migration Research Foundation and Bird Studies Canada (BSC).  In particular, this included an in-depth examination of movement patterns and habitat use during both the breeding and wintering seasons.  Results were from fieldwork focused on Amherst Island and Wolfe Island, with generous assistance of several members of the Kingston Field Naturalists who had been conducting weekly surveys on the islands since November 2009.  Also, at the continental scale, movement pattern studies include satellite telemetry (BSC) and the collection of feathers for stable isotope analysis (MRF).

Bird Protection Quebec - February 2010, Montreal, Quebec
Raptor ID?  No need to despair!
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
Many birders find raptors a particularly tricky group of birds to identify, but it doesn't have to be that way! With many birds, plumage and size are emphasized as the keys to identification, but for raptors these are not necessarily the best features to consider. Rather, shape and behaviour can be more reliable for many species, and this presentation emphasized the key points to keep in mind for each of the species regularly seen in Quebec.

Bird Protection Quebec - February 2010, Montreal, Quebec
The Zoological Society of Montreal - September 2010 - Montreal, Quebec
What a hoot - Owling 101
Presented by Kristen Keyes
This workshop was part of the winter lecture series offered annually by Bird Protection Quebec, and a monthly meeting of the Zoological Society of Montreal.  The goal was to help participants improve their abilities at locating the ten most common species of owl in the Montreal region of the province.  A general overview of each species natural history provided the framework for determining the optimal habitat, weather conditions, and time of day and year for viewing. The workshop covered other clues that may be useful for locating owls, as well as a careful examination of human actions in terms of which are appropriate during both the searching and observation stages of 'owling'.  

Bird Protection Quebec - December 2009 - Montreal, Quebec
Le Club d'observateurs d'Oiseaux de Laval - February 2010 - Laval, Quebec
Club d'Ornithologie d'Ahuntsic - February 2010 - Laval, Quebec
From a ramshackle shed to partnering with a national organization: McGill Bird Observatory turns 5 years old (English version)
L'observatoire d'oiseaux de McGill:  Les 5 premières années, des débuts modestes à un partenariat national (French version)

Presented in English at BPQ by Marie-Anne Hudson and Barbara Frei; co-author Marcel Gahbauer
Presented in French at COOL and COA by Simon Duval
Back in 2003, a small group of wildlife biology graduate students at McGill were intrigued by the possibility of banding Northern Saw-whet Owls in the Montreal area, rather than trekking up to Ottawa each fall for the experience. Before long the vision expanded to include boreal songbird migrants, and so 2004 became a pilot year to test out the suitability of McGill's Stoneycroft Wildlife Area as a site for this research. Results greatly exceeded expectations, and plans were made to standardize operations for spring and fall migration monitoring. Since 2005, research at the newly created McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) has followed the same protocols, over a period of 10 weeks each spring and 13 weeks each fall. While the main priority has been to collect data in support of long-term population monitoring of boreal species, MBO's activities have diversified to include bander training, public education, and species-specific research projects on advanced identification and behavioural ecology. With five full years of operation completed, it is time to review MBO's accomplishments to date, while also looking to the future to ensure the continuation and expansion of our research. The results produced at MBO have been possible only thanks to the dedicated efforts of many volunteersr. Our ability to maintain consistent research standards is dependent on such support continuing, and MBO is always in particular need of experienced birders to help as censusers and other observers. This presentation celebrated MBO's fifth birthday with a brief review of its history and accomplishments, a quiz-based look at the birds that make the station so special, and an invitation for all to participate in MBO's next 5 years!

Canadian Migration Monitoring Network Meeting - October 2009 - Tadoussac, Quebec
Station report: McGill Bird Observatory update for 2006 and 2007
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-author Marie-Anne Hudson
This was the third biennial meeting of the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network attended by representatives of McGill Bird Observatory. MBO was one of 22 member stations to present a brief update at this meeting. At the time of the presentation, MBO was in the final week of its fifth full year of spring and fall migration monitoring. In total, over 23,000 birds of 105 species have been banded since MBO's inception in 2004, and 198 species have been observed on site. Some trends have started to emerge, with certain species steadily increasing in numbers (including Traill's Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush, and White-crowned Sparrow), others decreasing (such as Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Parula, and Palm Warbler), and a surprising number showing apparent two-year cycles (most notably Black-capped Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, and Baltimore Oriole). Aside from standardized migration monitoring, MBO stands out as the only full-time banding station in southwestern Quebec, and its special features include a focus on education (training of wildlife biology students, development of the online photo ID library) andresearch (student projects and publications). Challenges at MBO include stability of funding and staffing, and the need to recruit experienced extractors and observers. Future plans include producing a five-year report covering the period 2005-2009, increasing research output, and further expanding education and training programs.

Raptor Research Foundation Annual Meeting - October 2009 - Pitlochry, Scotland
Assessment of movement patterns in the Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Poster presented by Kristen Keyes; co-authors David Bird, Marcel Gahbauer, and Keith Hobson
The Short-eared Owl is a cosmopolitan species found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica, and is associated with a variety of habitats including grasslands, arctic tundra, marshes, fallow fields, and occasionally active agricultural areas. It is generally considered a nomadic species, moving in relation to cyclic vole (Microtus spp.) populations. According to Breeding Bird Survey data, the species suffered a mean annual decline of 4.6% from 1966 through 2005 across North America, which corresponds to a cumulative loss of about 85%. In Canada, the Short-eared Owl has had Special Concern status since 1994, although the updated 2008 status report by the Committee on the Satus of Endangered Wildlife in Canada indicated that it nearly meets the criteria for Threatened. It is unclear what exactly has caused this population decline; due to its cryptic nature, important aspects of this owl's biology remain poorly understood. One of the main obstacles to assigning the species a higher conservation status and to implementing a management plan is the inability to develop accurate population estimates. Therefore, a better underrstanding of the local and continental movement patterns of Short-eared Owls is necessary, in part to determine the extent of nomadism versus site fidelity. To that end, this poster reported the results of a first field season on Amherst and Wolfe Islands, near Kingston, Ontario. Three nests were located on the former, but no owls were observed on the latter. In particular, the poster summarized the movements of a hatch-year owl fitted with a 9-gram radio transmitter and tracked between June 10 and July 8, when it and seven other owls on two adjacent territories appeared to relocate off the island. As well, this poster presented the preliminary results of a continental scale investigation of Short-eared owl movement patterns using stable isotope analysis. Deuterium variation within and among feathers on the same individuals was minimal. Samples from a hatch-year individual recovered in northern Alberta were consistent with expected deuterium ratios for the locatoin, but those from an after-hatch-year individual recovered in southern Alberta were not, and may provide further evidence for the apparent nomadic tendencies of Short-eared Owls.

Neilson Store Museum and Cultural Centre - July 2009 - Amherst Island, Ontario
Owls that don't give a hoot! A closer look at Short-eared Owls
Presented by Kristen Keyes and Catherine Doucet
The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is currently listed as a species of Special Concern in Canada and Ontario, although the April 2008 status report for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada noted that it nearly meets the criteria for Threatened status. While the species is accepted to be migratory across part of its North American range, movement patterns may be confounded with juvenile dispersal, as well as potential nomadism in search of prey (especially Microtus spp.). Amherst Island in eastern Ontario falls within the narrow overlapping zone between the Short-eared Owl's northern breeding grounds and more southern wintering grounds; here the species is regularly observed throughout the year. In late April 2009, we began an intensive effort to monitor Short-eared Owl breeding and wintering activity on Amherst Island, as well as nearby Wolfe Island. While no owls were observed on Wolfe Island, three pairs nested on Amherst Island, two of them successfully. One juvenile was captured using mist nets and equipped with a 9-gram radio transmitter on June 10, and its movements were tracked until the last signal registered on July 8. Subsequent efforts to relocate this individual were not successful and it appeared that all known Short-eared Owls on the island relocated at the same time, coincident with the start of the haying season. Vegetation surveys of areas used for courtship and nesting will help address outstanding questions regarding habitat selection, and contribute to the identification of key areas for conservation and management of Short-eared Owls and other grassland species. In conjunction with this research, another objective of the project is to encourage land stewardship through public educatoin; this presentation to the Amherst Island community was a well-attended example of the local interest in helping out this poorly understood but rapidly declining species.

79th Meeting of the Cooper Ornithological Society - April 2009 - Tucson, Arizona
Location, location, location: What Peregrine Falcons look for in real estate
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-authors D.M. Bird, T. French, F.A. McMorris, D. Brauning, and K.E. Clark.
The Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) population in eastern North America has grown significantly over the past three decades, especially in urban areas. We compiled and analyzed all documented nesting attempts from southern Quebec, southern Ontario, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts from 1980 through 2006 to evaluate nest site selection and factors affecting productivity. Of 801 nesting attempts, 663 were successful, producing 1613 young. Peregrines nesting in quarries or on buildings had higher productivity than those using marsh towers or bridges, but productivity did not differ overall between urban and rural sites. Nests with overhead covver had higher productivity than those without, as did nests in trays or boxes compared to sites without any human-provided nesting aids. Peregrines favoured nest sites facing east to south, but productivity did not vary significantly with direction. Of over 350 identified breeders, just five females and males accounted for 8% and 9% of all young fledged, respectively; all of these were at urban locations. While peregrines have been thriving in eastern cities, continued management may be required for them to maintain their level of success.

Kainai Studies Program - February 2009 - Red Crow Community College, Alberta
Urban wildlife: costs, benefits, and adaptations

Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
Urban sprawl and associated loss of natural habitat are often cited as factors in the decline of many species.  However, there are also many species that have adapted to life in cities, even to the point that some are thriving there in densities far beyond what is observed in natural areas.  Factors contributing to their success may include an abundance of food, scarcity of predators, and warmer temperatures in winter.  Species such as Peregrine Falcon and Common Nighthawk have adapted to nest on buildings that mimic rocky cliffs, while deer and coyote thrive in cities because they are protected from hunting. The urban environment also poses risks though - hundreds of millions of birds die annually from collisions with buildings, vehicle collisions also take their toll on a variety of species, and other sources of mortality such as poisoning and disease tend to be more frequent in cities.  Moreover, while food is often abundant in quantity, it may be lacking in quality compared to the nutrients found in a more natural diet.  The balance between costs and benefits or urban life is different for each species, and continues to shift as more and more species adapt to aspects of this relatively new environment.  The field of urban ecology promises to be an increasingly important area of study as urban landscapes continue to expand.

Raptor Research Foundation Annual Meeting - September 2008 - Missoula, Montana
Monitoring the distribution and abundance of Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) in North America
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-authors Leslie Hunt and Kristen Keyes
ABSTRACT:  In the absence of species-specific research efforts, much knowledge about the movements and population trends of birds is inferred from banding recoveries and annual monitoring programs such as the Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count.  We reviewed these databases for Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) across North America.  As of November 2006, 50 recoveries of banded Short-eared Owls have been reported, ranging in date from 1923 to 1997.  Most (66%) individuals were recovered in the same state or province as they were banded, including 30% recovered within the same 10-minute block.  However, eight individuals were recovered more than 1000 km away.  From 1957 through 2006, Christmas Bird Count sightings have been reported for Short-eared Owl for all provinces and states.  However, 61% of records have come from just two provinces and eight states.  These are concentrated in four areas:  Pacific coast (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California), Midwest (Illinois, Ohio), Northeast (Ontario, New York, New Jersey), and South (Texas).  Even within these areas, owls were concentrated locally, for example in Ontario records exist for 48 count circles, but 57% of individuals were counted at just five of these.  Across North America, the mean number of owls observed per hour declined at a mean annual rate of 4.7% (total 73%) between 1957 and 1982, but has since stabilized at a low level.  BBS data for 1966 to 2006 cover a more limited range, comprising 8 provinces, 2 territories, and 22 states.  Five of these (Alberta, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, and Utah) account for 58% of all BBS records. Therefore while the Short-eared Owl is generally widespread in North America, monitoring and conservation efforts may be most effectively focused on areas known to consistently support substantial local populations.

McGill Bird Observatory - September 2008 - Montreal, Quebec
MBO Workshop #3:  Knowing the common birds well and being prepared for rarities
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
Spotting an unexpected rarity is always exciting - but it is of relatively little value to migration monitoring research, which is largely founded on the analysis of trends in common species. Rather, the priority for such programs should be to identify the common species quickly and accurately. At the peak of migration, individuals may need to be identified very quickly to keep up with volume, therefore being intimately familiar with the key ageing and sexing criteria of common species is essential. This presentation focused on summarizing the most useful characteristics of MBO's most abundant fall species - Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Nashville Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and American Goldfinch. But while these species are most important for trend monitoring, it is nonetheless important to be able to spot rarities quickly, and to reliably distinguish them from similar species that may be more common. This presentation also highlighted some of the confusing rarities most likely to occur at McGill Bird Observatory, including Sedge Wren, Bicknell's Thrush, Pine Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Clay-colored Warbler.

McGill Ecology and Evolution Symposium - November 2007 - Mont St-Hilaire, Quebec
Banding beautiful bitey birds in Bellevue's backyard
Presented by Marie-Anne Hudson 
Though the alliterative title (requested by conference organizers) did not quite describe the purpose of this presentation, it certainly got the audience's attention.  The goal was to introduce McGill Bird Observatory to the audience, composed largely of faculty and students from the downtown campus of McGill University. A brief description of the basics involved in banding and the reasons for it was followed by a description of the banding site, various protocols, and results to date.  An invitation was issued to all to come visit and volunteer at the station next spring.

Canadian Migration Monitoring Network Meeting - October 2007 - Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta
Station report:  McGill Bird Observatory update for 2006 and 2007
Presented by Marie-Anne Hudson
The Canadian Migration Monitoring Network meets every two years to share information among member research stations and other network partners.  McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) was one of several stations from across the country to present a 20-minute summary of research activities since the last meeting in 2005.  At the time of the presentation, McGill Bird Observatory was three weeks from the end of its fourth fall season of migration monitoring.  In total, over 12,000 birds of 103 species have been banded since MBO's inception in 2004, and 191 species have been observed on site.  The fall season has proven to be a much more productive monitoring period than spring migration, though the two seasons are somewhat complementary in terms of the key species observed and banded.  In addition to maintaining these seasonal migration monitoring programs, MBO places a high priority on education, integrating the fall banding program into the ornithology curriculum at McGill University and also training other interested volunteers from the community in banding and other field research techniques.  Efforts are being made to expand the scope of research undertaken at MBO, with plans to have future graduate students centre their work on data collected at MBO.

McGill Bird Observatory - August 2007 - Montreal, Quebec
MBO Workshop #2:  Advanced identification techniques:  ageing by molt patterns in fall
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer 
Birders and banders alike are often interested in identifying birds to beyond just the species level.  Many species have widely described sexual differences, but characteristics indicative of age are less well known, even though some are also quite distinct.  The goal of this workshop was to demonstrate techniques by which various groups of birds can be accurately aged by molt patterns during the fall and winter.  Using examples from the online MBO Photo Library, key features were compared for a variety of species, genera, and families, with a particular focus on warblers and sparrows.  A field session the following morning at McGill Bird Observatory reinforced the classroom material, with 65 birds of 20 species providing the 15 workshop participants with ample opportunity to compare the differences between hatch-year and older birds, often side-by-side.

McGill Bird Observatory - December 2006 - Montreal, Quebec
MBO Workshop #1:  Deciphering molts and using the Identification Guide to North American Birds
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer and Marie-Anne Hudson
Correct ageing and sexing of birds is a critical skill for banders contributing to population monitoring research.  For most species, a solid understanding of the process of molt is the basis for being able to determine the age of individuals.  However, familiarity with molt patterns is only half the challenge - it is equally important to know how to quickly and efficiently search the Identification Guide to North American Birds (by Peter Pyle) for key reference material.  This full afternoon workshop provided an introduction to molt and tips on how to use the Identification Guide most effectively.  Workshop participants then had the opportunity to examine a sample of the specimens from the Canadian Bird Banding Office's collection, selected to highlight comparisons between ages within species, especially for species commonly banded at McGill Bird Observatory.

Ecomuseum - March 2006 - Montreal, Quebec
(also presented at the Morgan Arboretum, Montreal, May 2006)
Bird banding as a research tool: local discoveries at McGill Bird Observatory
Presented by Marie-Anne Hudson
This presentation served to introduce members of the Ecomuseum to activities at the McGill Bird Observatory (MBO), located immediately to the north of the Ecomuseum.  Introductory material included a review of the history of bird banding, the tools and techniques involved, and the nature of the data that can be generated through research.  The selection of the site for MBO was explained, highlighting the variety of wetland, old pasture, and mature forest habitat the comprise the property, and the rich variety of bird species found to use the area during pilot studies.  The remainder of the presentation focused on some of the discoveries that have been made at MBO during its first two years of operation.  Among these, the surprisingly large volume of fall migrants (over 3,000 individuals banded), usage of the site by species at risk including Peregrine Falcon, Bicknell's Thrush, and Rusty Blackbird, documentation of various plumage irregularities and physical deformities on various species observed as a result of banding activities, and use of measurements and photography to advance knowledge about ageing and sexing of individuals in certain species. 

Zoological Society of Montreal - November 2005 - Montreal, Quebec
(also presented to the Montreal Field Naturalists by Marie-Anne Hudson, winter 2006)
Bird banding on our doorstep:  the establishment of the McGill Bird Observatory
Presented by Marie-Anne Hudson and Marcel Gahbauer 
Establishing a bird observatory within a city might seem like a poor choice of location, but can actually be a very effective site for migration monitoring if chosen well.  The McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) is located at the west end of the island of Montreal, which acts as a concentration point for landbirds moving southwest between the two rivers.  In addition to being well located for birds, MBO benefits from the proximity of a large pool of potential volunteers in both the adjacent Macdonald Campus of McGill University, and the Montreal birding community.  Since being started in May 2004, over 100 volunteers have been involved in operating MBO.  This level of participation has allowed for the operation of two pilot seasons of migration monitoring, and a full season of thorough fall monitoring, from August through October this year.  The results have exceeded expectations, with over 3200 birds of 78 species banded this fall alone, and a total of 170 species observed since MBO was established.  The value of MBO for migration monitoring has been clearly established, and the challenge now is to maintain comparable levels of research effort in the years to come, to permit for the evaluation of population trends over time.

Society of Canadian Ornithologists Annual Meeting - October 2005 - Halifax, Nova Scotia
The McGill Bird Observatory: Establishing an avian research and training facility in Montreal
Poster presented by Marie-Anne Hudson 
The McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) is located on a 22 hectare property in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, at the western tip of the island of Montreal.  Its goals are to monitor migratory and resident birds through banding and standardized observations, serve as a training centre for students and others who wish to research birds through banding, and provide public education on avian research and conservation.  Within its first year of full operation, over 4000 birds were banded at MBO, with the five most abundant species being American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Magnolia Warbler, and American Robin.  At the opposite extreme, rarities and oddities banded include Blue-winged Warbler, Bicknell's Thrush, and Rusty Blackbird, plus a variety of individuals with physical deformities or plumage abnormalities, all of which are documented by photo.  By placing an emphasis on training students in banding techniques and integrating MBO programs with the wildlife biology curriculum, we hope to ensure that MBO programs continue to be operated in a standardized manner for many years to come.

Canadian Migration Monitoring Network - October 2005 - Picton, Ontario
First annual report on McGill Bird Observatory
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer 
McGill Bird Observatory (MBO) is part way through its second fall season as a migration monitoring station, and already over 4000 birds have been banded.  While not directly on a shoreline as most other bird observatories are, MBO is close enough to the west tip of the island of Montreal that a migration funnel effect exists, concentrating passerines in particular.  To date, 165 species have been observed, and 90 banded since MBO was established in May 2004.  The spring (April-May) and fall (August-October) migration seasons are the primary focus for MBO, but breeding and wintering birds are also monitored to some extent.  In addition to banding, birds are monitored through a standardized daily census, and supplemental observations by all participants.  Research is underway to explore advanced ageing/sexing techniques for locally common species.  In addition to avian research, MBO places an emphasis on training students and other volunteers in all aspects of banding.

Raptor Research Foundation Annual Meeting - October 2005 - Green Bay, Wisconsin
Genetic origin of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) breeding in eastern Canada
Presented by David Bird; co-authors Marcel Gahbauer and David Bird
Project partners:  Avian Science and Conservation Centre, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources 
Between 1975 and 1996, over 1500 captive bred Peregrine Falcons were introduced by hacking into nest sites in southern Canada.  All the captive breeders originated from wild nests south of the treeline, considered to be within the range of the anatum subspecies.  Some of the released falcons returned to breed in southern Canada, while others bred in the eastern US.  Conversely, many of the peregrine falcons breeding in Canada originated from releases and wild sites in the US, where several subspecies were used in captive breeding programs.  This is most evident in southern Ontario, where Peregrine Falcons resumed breeding in 1995 after an absence of over thirty years.  From 1995 through 2004, 30 breeding adults were observed, of which nine were of Canadian origin, 12 of American origin, and nine were unbanded birds of unknown origin.  However, of the Canadian birds, four had at least one parent originating from the US breeding program.  This paper reviews our knowledge of the origin of Peregrine Falcons that breed in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada, based on band recoveries.

Province of Quebec Society for the Protection of Birds - April 2005 - Montreal, Quebec
Life and death on the tundra
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
Project partners:  Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas is an ambitious 5-year project designed to generate an accurate summary of the current distribution and abundance of breeding birds across the province.  Each summer, a few teams of volunteers have headed to remote parts of northern Ontario to survey areas of the province accessible only by air.  In June 2004, MRF Research Director Marcel Gahbauer was the team leader for a group surveying the Hudson Bay lowlands near the mouth of the Brant River.  Previously known as a stronghold of the Short-eared Owl, the area proved disappointing in that regard as the natural population cycle of voles was at an extreme low, and most raptors had moved elsewhere.  It was also an exceptionally cold and late spring, with an abundance of snow and ice remaining in late June.  This presentation summarizes the wildlife observed during the trip, and the challenges which the harsh arctic environment imposes on species.

Canadian Museum of Nature - March 2005 - Ottawa, Ontario
Hands on Science: Raptor research techniques
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
An informal three-hour session at the Museum of Nature, sharing information with visitors about the various aspects of raptor research conducted by the Migration Research Foundation.  Banding and telemetry tools were on display, as well as photos illustrating the research programs.

Raptor Research Foundation - November 2004 - Bakersfield, California
Nest site characteristics and productivity of urban Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) in southern Ontario
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-author David Bird
Project partner: Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
In 1995, two Peregrine Falcon pairs nested in southern Ontario, marking the first successful breeding in the region in over thirty years.  Since then, 18 sites have been used, including a one-year high of 10 active nests in 2004.  From 1995 to 2004, 217 eggs were documented at 63 nesting attempts. The overall hatching rate was 65.9%, with higher success at southwest, south, or southeast facing nests (76.8%, n=28) than at others (56.8%, n=35). Two-thirds of nesting attempts were at sites with full overhead cover; hatching success at these averaged 76.6% versus 44.4% at sites with partial or zero cover.  Of all chicks hatched (n=143), 95.8% survived to fledging, and 78.3% survived to independence.  To supplement natural productivity, 49 juveniles were hack released at 15 sites between 1999 and 2004.  Government biologists and/or experienced volunteers monitored all nests and releases. Fledglings were rescued whenever injured, or at risk of injury from ground predators and/or traffic.  Only 8.2% of hack released peregrines were rescued, compared to 41.6% of wild hatched juveniles.  Of young hatched between 1995 and 2003, the fate, one year post-fledging, is known for 43.7% (n=119) of wild hatched and 42.2% (n=45) of hack released birds.  First year mortality was 63.5% for wild hatched individuals and 68.4% for hack released birds.  Of the survivors, 15 wild hatched individuals have produced 101 offspring, while the only breeding hack released bird has produced five. Two of the breeders displaced one of their parents from their natal sites, two took over existing Ontario territories, five established new territories in southern Ontario, and the remaining seven nested in Michigan, Ohio, or New York.  These results from Ontario suggest that a broader review of the eastern Peregrine Falcon population could reveal important patterns to better guide future management efforts.

Congrès des Ornithologues Amateurs du Québec - October 2004 - St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
Le suivi du Hibou des marais effectué pour la Fondation de la recherche de la migration (Short-eared Owl monitoring by the Migration Research Foundation)
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
In 2003, the Migration Research Foundation began monitoring the Short-eared Owl population in southern Ontario.  Between April and August, over 40 sites were surveyed, based on recent sightings reported by birders, data from the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and historical records.  Few Short-eared Owls were found, including only two pairs with fledged young.  The Short-eared Owl population in southern Ontario has been in decline for decades, and the survey illustrated that even suitable habitat is now rarely occupied by the species.  The results of this breeding season survey have motivated the Migration Research Foundation to launch a larger research program to investigate the habitat usage, movements, and conservation concerns of the Short-eared Owl in southern Ontario.  The species is at least partially nomadic, and there are some sites in southwestern Quebec which are regularly occupied by Short-eared Owls.  MRF has requested the assistance of ornithologists in Quebec in documenting the occurrence of Short-eared Owls, and will consider expanding the overall research program to southern Quebec to evaluate potential differences between regions.

Congrès des Ornithologues Amateurs du Québec - October 2004 - St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec
Créer et exploiter un poste de baguage conforme aux standards nord-américains selon l'expérience de l'OOM (Establishing a banding station to North American standards: the experience of McGill Bird Observatory)
Presented by Marie-Anne Hudson
In 2004, the Migration Research Foundation, in conjunction with the Avian Science and Conservation Centre of McGill University, founded the McGill Bird Observatory.  Situated at the west end of the island of Montreal, this station fills a significant gap in the migration monitoring network in the province of Quebec.  Our goals are to: 1) monitor the migratory movements of birds in general and Northern Saw-whet Owls (Aegolius acadicus) in particular; 2) offer educational opportunities for the general public through nature walks and banding workshops; and 3) promote bird-banding as an important scientific tool.  Our activities include spring and fall migration monitoring, winter resident banding to assess patterns in population dynamics, and a summer breeding monitoring program to assess the breeding success of the local nesting birds.  MRF and the ASCC depend heavily on the participation of dedicated volunteers such as amateur birders to ensure the success of this venture.  In return, we commit ourselves to the conservation of birds through habitat restoration, careful population monitoring, and public education programs.

Richmond Hill Naturalists - September 2004 - Richmond Hill, Ontario
Life and death on the tundra
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
Project partners:  Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
The Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas is an ambitious 5-year project designed to generate an accurate summary of the current distribution and abundance of breeding birds across the province.  Each summer, a few teams of volunteers have headed to remote parts of northern Ontario to survey areas of the province accessible only by air.  In June 2004, MRF Research Director Marcel Gahbauer was the team leader for a group surveying the Hudson Bay lowlands near the mouth of the Brant River.  Previously known as a stronghold of the Short-eared Owl, the area proved disappointing in that regard as the natural population cycle of voles was at an extreme low, and most raptors had moved elsewhere.  It was also an exceptionally cold and late spring, with an abundance of snow and ice remaining in late June.  This presentation summarizes the wildlife observed during the trip, and the challenges which the harsh arctic environment imposes on species.

Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas - April 2004 - Ottawa, Ontario
Short-eared Owl monitoring in southern Ontario
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer
The Migration Research Foundation surveyed over 40 sites across southern Ontario in the spring and summer of 2003, searching for evidence of breeding Short-eared Owls.  Sites visited were selected on the basis of historical records, reports from the current Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, and sightings by local birders and naturalists.  Most sites were visited at least twice; those with particularly many previous records were checked more frequently.  Despite the efforts made, breeding was confirmed at only two sites, on each in the Quinte and Kingston areas of eastern Lake Ontario.  Single birds were observed at three other sites, but despite follow-up monitoring, no evidence of young could be found at any of them.  The poor results were consistent with a general sense by birders (and atlas volunteers in particular) that Short-eared Owls were scarce in the summer of 2003, and also with the overall decline in occurrence since the first atlas twenty years earlier.  The strongholds of the species appear to be eastern Lake Ontario and the lower Ottawa River valley; observers are encouraged to monitor these areas particularly closely.

Hawk Migration Association of North America - March 2003 - Corpus Christi, Texas
Patterns in the migratory movements of North American Peregrine Falcons
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-authors David Bird, Geoffrey Holroyd
Project partners:  McGill University, Canadian Peregrine Foundation, Canadian Wildlife Service
ABSTRACT:  Satellite telemetry has previously been used to document the movements of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) from breeding grounds in western North America, winter territories in Mexico, and migratory stopovers along the Atlantic Coast.  This study is the first to focus primarily on the movements of urban Peregrine Falcons, and to be targeted mostly at juveniles.  Between 1997 and 2002, 27 Peregrine Falcons from Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New York, and Pennsylvania were fitted with satellite transmitters during the summer months.  Nine individuals died or were otherwise lost from communication before the end of summer.  Among the others, nine undertook long-distance migrations of 2000 km or more, six migrated shorter distances, two moved to locations within 100 km of their origins, and one did not disperse at all.  Time of dispersal, in number of days post-fledging, was longer for urban juveniles than for those from rural sites.  Similarly, captive-bred juveniles dispersed more slowly than those raised in the wild.  Among urban peregrines, captive-bred individuals showed a much greater migratory tendency.  Regardless of origin, almost all moved to a coastal location for the winter.  Migratory paths were varied, but many individuals frequented Florida and the east coast of Mexico.  For six birds, both fall and spring migrations were recorded; all returned to within 50 km of their points of origin.  Those which wintered in North America or Mexico returned by similar routes, while those which migrated further south crossed long distances of open water in the fall, but followed terrestrial routes in the spring.

Argos Animal Tracking Symposium - March 2003 - Annapolis, Maryland
Peregrine Falcons:  insights gained throughs satellite telemetry
Presented by Marcel Gahbauer; co-authors David Bird and Geoffrey Holroyd
Project partners:  McGill University, Canadian Peregrine Foundation, Canadian Wildlife Service
Previous researchers have used satellite telemetry to document the migration of Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) between northern breeding territories and wintering grounds in Central and South America.  The present study is focused primarily on the dispersal and migration of juvenile Peregrine Falcons from urban environments.  Seventeen such individuals have been tracked since 1998, in addition to five juveniles from rural sites and five adults.  Birds were fitted with a PTT at or near their nest sites in Alberta (n = 6), Ontario (n = 14), Quebec (n = 2), New York (n = 1), and Pennsylvania (n = 4).  Nine individuals died or were otherwise lost from communication within three months, and an additional three falcons died later while still wearing the PTT.  In several cases, the site of death could be located using the telemetry data, allowing the cause of mortality to be determined; factors identified include vehicle collisions, predation, and electrocution.  Of the 18 individuals tracked for three months or longer, nine undertook long-distance migrations of 2000 km or more, six migrated shorter distances, two moved to locations within 100 km of their origins, and one did not disperse at all.  Among the migrants, some departed directly from their original territory, while others first dispersed locally before undertaking longer journeys.  Time of post-fledging dispersal was later for urban juveniles than for those from rural sites.  Satellite telemetry has proven to be effective at describing both the spatial and temporal patterns of Peregrine Falcon movements.


© 2002- The Migration Research Foundation Inc.