Game bird carcasses are less persistent than raptor carcasses, but can predict raptor persistence dynamics

Steve Boland, Flikr

Researchers conduct post-construction fatality monitoring (PCFM) to determine a wind energy facility’s direct impacts on wildlife. Results of PCFM can be used to evaluate compliance with permitted take, potentially triggering adaptive management measures or offsetting mitigation; reducing uncertainty in fatality rates benefits wind companies, wildlife agencies, and other stakeholders. As part of PCFM, investigators conduct carcass persistence trials to account for imperfect detection during carcass surveys. In most PCFM studies, pen-raised game birds and other non-raptor surrogates have been used to estimate persistence of all large birds, including raptors. However, there is a growing body of evidence showing carcass persistence varies by bird type; raptor fatality estimates based on game bird carcass persistence may therefore be biased high. We conducted raptor and game bird carcass persistence field trials for 1 year at 6 wind energy facilities. Raptor carcass persistence varied by habitat and season, whereas the best-supported game bird model only included habitat. Raptor persistence probabilities were higher than corresponding game bird persistence probabilities for 13 of the 16 habitat and season combinations. Analysis of a curated large bird persistence meta-dataset showed that raptor carcass persistence varied by season, habitat, and region. The probability of persisting through a 30-day search interval ranged from 0.44 to 0.99 for raptors and from 0.16 to 0.79 for game birds. Raptor persistence was significantly higher than game bird persistence for 95% of the sampled strata. We used these carcass persistence estimates to develop linear mixed-effects models that predict raptor persistence probabilities based on estimated game bird persistence probabilities. Our scaling model provides an important statistical method to address gaps in raptor persistence data at sites in a broad range of landscape contexts in the continental United States and should be used to inform fatality estimation when site-specific raptor persistence data are limited or absent.

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