Some diurnal raptors are frequently observed at prairie dog (Cynomys sp.) colonies. As a result, some military installations have conducted prairie dog control activities to reduce the bird-aircraft strike hazard (BASH) potential of low-flying aircraft. To evaluate the validity of this management strategy, we assessed raptor associations with prairie dog colonies at 2 short-grass prairie study areas: southern Lubbock County, Texas, USA, and Melrose Bombing and Gunnery Range in east-central New Mexico, USA. We quantified diurnal raptors (i.e., Falconiformes) at plots occupied (colony plots) and unoccupied (noncolony plots) by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) at both sites throughout 2002. We compared the number of individual birds of a given species at colony and noncolony plots within each study area by season. Ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) and northern harriers (Circus cyaneus) were more abundant at colony plots, whereas Swainson's hawks (B. swainsoni) and American kestrels (Falco sparverius) were more abundant at noncolony plots. Red-tailed hawk (B. jamaicensis) abundance did not differ between the 2 plot types. Our results suggest prairie dog control as a method of reducing BASH potential may be effective at some sites but may be ineffective or even increase the BASH potential at others. Thus, bird-avoidance models assessing the BASH potential should be conducted on a site-specific basis using information on relative and seasonal abundances of individual raptor species and the relative strike risks they pose to aircraft.
Additional publication details
Abundance of diurnal raptors in relation to prairie dog colonies: Implications for bird-aircraft strike hazard