With shrinking habitats and other threats, some coastal and migratory birds are suffering declines in their populations.
Declines of some species, like the common night hawk and Golden-winged and Cerulean warblers, are puzzling scientists while other scientists race to save the beach-nesting snowy plover from falling victim to Mother Nature’s coastal forces, predators and the public.
Two recently announced Gulf Power-supported Power of Flight grants will provide Operation Migration and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute researchers the data, tools, strategies and community-based stewardship actions that are essential to protecting coastal birds that make up the fabric of the Gulf Coast ecosystem.
Researchers will be able to focus on restoring and maintaining the ecology of coastal bird species spanning Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, and gather critical data to better understand how to focus their conservation efforts.
“Through the Gulf Coast Conservation Grants Program, Gulf Power maximizes funding to conduct local coastal habitat conservation, from Longleaf pine habitats to Coastal dune lakes,” said Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson. “The Power of Flight program has been instrumental in conserving critical bird species. Gulf Power works diligently to ensure our community is a great place to live and to enjoy our great outdoors.”
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced the grants that demonstrate historic commitment to wildlife conservation through partnerships with Gulf Power and Southern Company.“Gulf Power’s commitment to conservation continues to benefit both wildlife and local communities,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO at NFWF.
This latest round of grants will build on the success of the Power of Flight program, which, since 2003, restored and enhanced more than 476,000 acres of high-priority habitat for bird species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, northern bobwhite quail, coastal birds and others. To date, 87 Power of Flight-supported projects have been implemented across the region served by the Gulf Power and the other Southern Company system’s electric utility subsidiaries.
Operation Migration will conduct monitoring and outreach efforts in support of conserving the critically endangered whooping crane and building a self-sustaining population in the Southeast. Activities include tracking and monitoring young-of-year cranes following their release, as well as adult cranes in the population during north-south migration flights and spring nesting activities. The grant also allows conducting web outreach to increase general awareness and provide migration progress updates.
“I can safely say, without the support of Gulf Power and Southern Company, there would be no whooping cranes east of the Mississippi River,” said Heather Ray, Operation Migration director of development. “You have supported our work to safeguard whooping cranes since 2002.”
This will be the first time in four years the birds won’t be escorted to St. Marks National Wildlife Preserve near Tallahassee by an ultralight aircraft. For that reason, the Gulf Power service area and west to the Mississippi border and east to the Atlantic coast will be monitored for the migrating birds.
“We don’t know where the young-to-year cranes will end as this is the first year that no ultralight aircraft will be used to take them to the St. Marks,” said Ray. “The grant will allow us to monitor the parent reared and released cranes closer than they’ve ever been monitored in the four years the project has been running.”
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute will map the distribution, abundance, timing and habitat affiliations of birds during the spring and fall migrations around the Gulf Coast, including in the Gulf Power service area, using weather radar and citizen-collected (eBird) data. Resulting maps will be used by conservation planners and policymakers as decision support tools to develop Gulf Power-wide conservation priorities for North America’s migratory birds.
“We are excited to have Gulf Power’s support to do this important and timely work,” said Peter Marra, head of Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. “The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center is dedicated to understanding, conserving and championing the grand phenomenon of bird migration. This support is central to our work of determining why migratory bird populations are declining so rapidly.”
Marra said scientists know that Gulf Coast habitats provide critical stopover areas for North America’s migratory birds, yet they haven’t figured out which areas specifically, from Brownsville, Texas, to the Florida Keys, support the highest concentrations and of what species.
“This knowledge will help prioritize conservation efforts to protect these remarkable species,” he said.