Helped deploy GPS tags on nine Glaucous Gulls at Alaska’s North Slope. This study was the first to focus its attention on immature arctic seabirds, who were originally thought to spend their first year along the U.S. west coast. Data revealed however, that these birds actually migrate to Russia.
The Long-Billed Curlew was a mystery to scientists.
Where exactly did it travel? Breed? Rest? How many of the large North American shorebirds still existed? And how could conservationists help protect the species from extinction?
Once so common in the southeast U.S. that John James Audubon’s famous painting of the Long-Billed Curlew features Charleston in the background, hunting and breeding habitat loss has devastated the eastern population of curlews. This year, researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center tracked a male Long-Billed Curlew, which came from a near-extirpated wintering population of less than 100 curlews along the Atlantic Coast, to its summer breeding habitat in Saskatchewan, Canada — the first time that anyone has tracked a curlew from this vanishing group. Thanks to this lone bird, scientists are finally getting answers about this species’ unknown migration.
Tracking the Long-Billed Curlew is just one of the many migratory bird tracking and habitat conservation programs we support through our Charitable Investments Signature Program focused on water and biodiversity stewardship and conservation efforts.
In North America, more than a third of bird species are at risk of extinction, according to a 2016 study by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative. The first of its kind to look at the vulnerability of bird populations in Canada, the United States and Mexico, the study found that 37 percent of the 1,154 species on the continent need urgent conservation action. Understanding and tracking bird migration is crucial for conserving habitats that are essential to species survival. Migrating birds are what is known as an “indicator species” — their issues foretell other problems within the ecosystem and provide an opportunity to mitigate potential risks.
Taking a wide-angle approach by supporting educational and conversation efforts offers an opportunity to leverage research and establish priorities for action. Conservation work such as these strategic migratory bird projects also helps us learn about ecosystems near our operations, develop local relationships, and provide volunteer opportunities to spend time in nature. Additionally, by supporting research we can reduce the chance that regulatory or policy decisions based on missing or inconclusive scientific data negatively impacts our operations.
Working with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), we fund the ConocoPhillips SPIRIT of Conservation and Innovation Program to support projects focused on the restoration of ecosystems and habitats, particularly those focused on high-priority North American migratory species. We also support innovative conservation technologies and techniques in areas where we operate.
We partner with Ducks Unlimited to help manage and conserve U.S. Gulf Coast wetlands — important wintering habitats for waterfowl. By identifying effective coastal restoration and mitigation projects and working closely with diverse stakeholders, we support a variety of efforts, including freshwater-introduction and marsh-terracing projects, shoreline stabilization, coastal ridge restoration, and hydrologic improvements.
“The loss of coastal wetlands is not just a local problem, it is a national issue,” said ConocoPhillips Coastal Wetlands Director Phil Precht. “These areas provide critical protection of the nation’s maritime trade, seafood and energy industries. The habitat in this area is also critical to the survival of many species of concern. Wetlands loss is crisis that requires the cooperation of public and private entities. We are proud to be on the front lines of this effort through our support of several important programs.”
“ConocoPhillips is an excellent partner because their stewardship principles are similar to ours, and they have a very good reputation for working with agencies and moving projects forward,” said Jerry Holden, director of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited.
In northeast China, we worked with the International Crane Foundation to manage and restore wetlands in Momoge National Nature Reserve, the largest global staging area for Siberian Cranes. About 3,600 are present daily, approximately 95 percent of the world population, for almost two months of each migration season. Significant water shortages threaten the habitats of Siberian Cranes and other species. Until now, no one has studied these habitats systematically or developed conservation recommendations and the species appears to be under threat.
Tracking migratory patterns
We help advance the conservation and understanding of migratory birds through work with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center. Through this partnership, we gain a better understanding of the important habitats throughout their migration cycle, and how we can take a coordinated approach for more effective conservation. The center conducts both long-term and applied research.
Using advanced tracking technologies, we are involved with six projects charting the journeys of 12 migratory bird species, several of which spend parts of their migration cycle near our areas of operation in Alaska, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Colorado, and Texas. In 2016, a range of innovative tracking devices were used to fit a variety of birds with tracking tags. Species included Pacific Loons, Black-Bellied Plovers, Canada Warblers, Connecticut Warblers, Rusty Blackbirds, Common Nighthawks, Olive-Sided Flycatchers, Mountain Plovers, Glaucous Gulls, and Long-Billed Curlews.
In Alaska, ConocoPhillips employees helped tag Pacific Loons and Black- Bellied Plovers near our Alpine facility on the north slope. A hoop net was used to catch the birds, which were then fitted with a satellite tag that transmits daily data about connectivity information including migratory pathways, stop locations and wintering areas, and the different patterns of individual birds of the same species. We discovered a distinct migratory divide between North Slope and Western Alaska Pacific Loon populations. The former crosses over to Russia, China and South Korea, while the latter flies directly south to Mexico.