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Effects of birdwatchers on sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) behavior at spring stopover sites in the San Luis Valley, Colorado




Wilkins, Kate, author
Moore, John, advisor
Bowser, Gillian, advisor
Angeloni, Lisa, committee member
Pejchar, Liba, committee member

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Human recreational activities can disturb wildlife by causing animals to alter feeding patterns, or change feeding locations. Migratory birds in particular can be susceptible to disturbance since they have limited time for resting, feeding and courtship along their migratory routes. Sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) are an iconic and charismatic species that stop in Colorado's San Luis Valley during each spring and fall migration, which has led to an annual spring bird watching festival at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. The goal of this research was to understand how birdwatchers drawn by the festival affect the behavior of sandhill cranes in this important migration stopover site. For the purposes of this research, "birdwatchers" are defined as any person present in the pullouts where we conducted observations of crane behavior. The behavior of sandhill cranes was observed using focal animal sampling techniques during March 2010 and 2011 at sites both on and off the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. The number of birdwatchers at a particular site did not affect the time cranes spent in vigilance postures; however, cranes spent more time vigilant on the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge than on privately owned lands, where there were fewer observers. Overall, the results of this study suggest that the birdwatchers during the festival had minimal impact on sandhill crane behavior on the refuge, including open lands managed as agricultural fields. The results of this research can inform adaptive management approaches to balance bird watching opportunities and the needs of charismatic migratory species.


2012 Fall.
Includes bibliographical references.

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bird behavior
risk-disturbance hypothesis
human disturbance to wildlife


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