July 26, 2018

Wildlife biologist talks APC pickup day

You have previously read Fossil Rim Director of Animal Health Dr. Holly Haefele explaining what an Attwater’s prairie chicken (APC) shipment day is like, but what about the perspective of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologists who travel to the wildlife center to pick up the endangered birds? Dr. Mike Morrow shared his thoughts in person during a break in the action inside one of the APC buildings, as he prepared to load up the USFWS transport trailer and make the 225-mile trip back to the APC National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologists Dr. Mike Morrow (center) and Brandon Melton, as well as American Conservation Experience Intern Meredith Stroud (second from right), travel to Fossil Rim from the national refuge to pick up APCs for transport. The woman on the right is Fossil Rim Prairie Grouse Conservation Intern Kristi Broerman.

“I’m here with fellow (USFWS) biologist Brandon Melton, as well as American Conservation Experience Intern Meredith Stroud, for the first of what I expect to be five shipment days this summer. Initially, the birds are (leg) banded, weighed and have their gender identified by (Senior Avian Specialist) Cara (Burch).

While the metal leg band identifies the APC as originating from Fossil Rim, the blue band will let USFWS personnel in future years know the particular year the bird was released onto the national refuge.

The metal band on the leg is a Fossil Rim ID band; (fellow production centers) Houston Zoo and Caldwell Zoo also use metal bands, but with their respective facilities identified on each band. The blue-colored band is our (USFWS) band for this particular release year.

Before shipment to the refuge, the female APCs are fitted with a radio telemetry transmitter so that their nests can be found the following spring.

Then, they go to the vets for health assessments and usually receive anthelmintics (dewormer) one last time.

When the birds rotate to us, we confirm the sex, looking at things like eyebrow coloration and tail feathers. The males’ eyebrows will eventually turn yellow-orange – the same with its air sacs. On females, the tails are barred, while on males they are black. The birds are at a very awkward age when we make these pickups.

Examining an APC’s wing chord enables USFWS biologists to scale body mass and get a read on physical conditioning.

They are essentially teenagers, so it is difficult to determine (gender) at this age. Females typically don’t have yellow-orange marks, but occasionally you do see females with some of that coloration. So, I try to look at several characteristics and figure the gender out.

When the APCs have been fully evaluated, they are placed in these transport crates.

After that, we are looking at the wing chord, which we can use to scale the body mass to give us (a read on) the physical conditioning. Next, we look at the progression of molting, which is tied to age.

Then, we are radioing the females – placing a transmitter on their neck – so we can find the nests next spring.”

While USFWS APC refuge personnel used to be limited to transporting 60 birds at a time by van, this temperature-controlled transport trailer can haul 120 birds per trip.

After each bird progresses around the room to the various stations, it is placed in a transport crate and loaded into the air-conditioned transport trailer bound for the refuge.


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