USGS - science for a changing world

Wandering Birds of the Great Basin


Prairie falcon in flight.

Springtime on the Snake River, in southern Idaho. A young field biologist braces against a biting wind late one afternoon. Searching, searching through binoculars he finds his target -- this Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)  returning to its nest area after a 3000-km journey...

Prairie falcon in flight.

USGS
Ferruginous hawks perched on a windmill.

On a blustery fall morning a cowboy in western Nevada peers toward the rising sun. In his line of sight, perched on a windmill, backlit by the blue sky, he sees these hawks. The cowboy has seen a few hawks in his time and he can tell by thier size, pale breasts, and rusty legs that these are Ferruginous Hawks (Buteo regalis). He wonders, "What brought them here on a fall morning?  ... Where did they come from?"...

Ferruginous Hawks perched on a windmill.

Photo by Will Keely


What do these birds and people have in common? They all live in the sagebrush-dominated landscapes we know as the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau. The main difference is that for the most part the people stay put and don't realize -- barely even think about -- how this vast region functions as an integrated whole. The birds have a different view. Through their annual cycles they move throughout the region and beyond. Different parts of the Great Basin contribute to each bird's survival as their migratory routes take them through Idaho, Utah, Nevada and ... where else?

Click on the button below to enter the world of 'Wandering' Birds. Soar with pelicans and stoop with falcons as you discover how these birds depend on the entire region for sustenance. Learn how these birds provide a link between cowboy, boater, and biologist. Let the birds teach us how every action, no matter how small or local, is connected with the health of the entire Great Basin and beyond.

American pelicans in flight.
A boater on the Great Salt Lake, out for a weekend of fun and relaxation, is lying on her back enjoying the afternoon breeze. In her view is this large  formation of American White Pelicans (Pelicanus erythrorhynchos)  soaring over the sagebrush desert. The vision stimulates her awareness of the contrast between cool blue lake and dry gray-green desert. Where ever these pelicans came from must be a long way away...

A kettle of Pelicans.

Photo by Donna Withers




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Page Last Modified: 11/16/2016