As many people and businesses face stay-at-home orders to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, biologists also face hurdles in conducting field research. Field research involves traveling to remote sites, often in pairs or groups, to survey, monitor, and collect samples from wildlife. With the current pandemic situation, much of this research has been temporarily shut down, or drastically altered, and involves constantly updating plans as the conditions and restrictions change on a state-to-state and site-to-site basis.

Our Full Cycle Phenology project uses a variety of methods to collect large-scale data on American Kestrel annual cycles. A large component of the project involves crew travel to Department of Defense (DoD) sites across 13 states to capture, band and sample breeding American Kestrels, to perform camera maintenance and data downloads. Needless to say, travel restrictions imposed for Boise State Employees, restrictions for non-local and non-essential employees working on DoD installations, and general stay-at-home orders have made this aspect of the project impossible. Even without these restrictions, the general risk of traveling and exposing our crews to high density areas like airports and regions with high community spread of the virus, and the unavailability of PPE to protect crew members, was not acceptable.

Map showing the Department of Defense sites where we monitor nest boxes for American Kestrels, lines indicate connections between our base in Boise, Idaho and each site (left). A male American Kestrel we captured, banded, and collected biological samples from in previous years.

Fortunately, several aspects of this project make it possible for us to salvage some data collection this year, the final year of fieldwork for the project. We are are incredibly fortunate to have many willing and capable collaborators among the biologists working on DoD installations. These partners have been essential throughout the project in providing on-the-ground assistance with logistical planning, installation access, and periodic nest box monitoring. This year, our partners have stepped up again and provided invaluable assistance by deploying cameras, and collecting samples at sites where biologists are still allowed on installations.

Above images show our DoD and other local partners helping to install nest boxes, cameras, and perform maintenance.

Images from cameras in nest boxes provide a wealth of information on phenology, breeding behavior, and productivity of American Kestrels and other species using the nest boxes. Furthermore, many of these cameras send data remotely on a cellular service, so we are able to monitor nests remotely from our homes in Boise, Idaho!

We are so grateful for the opportunity to work with this fantastic network of people, and to be able to continue learning about kestrels remotely. We hope you follow along with us and enjoy watching the wonders of the natural world from the comfort of your home!

Our remote trail cameras capture a male and female American Kestrel pair roosting together at night in a nest box in Yakima Training Area, Washington (far left); and a female (center left) and male (far right) taking turns incubating their clutch of five eggs (center right) in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico
Our remote cameras have also captured images of nesting screech owls (upper three photos); squirrel pups (two lower left photos); and nesting bluebirds (two lower right photos) at sites such as Eglin AFB, Florida, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina

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