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Influence of Energy Development on Non-Game Sagebrush Birds III

A male Brewer's sparrow singing from his sagebrush perch.  Nests are located based on adult territoriality behaviors and systematic searching.


August 2013 - December 2017


One of the most influential sources of on-going sagebrush loss and change in Wyoming is oil and natural gas development. Research conducted by the PI and graduate students Michelle Gilbert and Mathew Hethcoat at the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit during 2008 - 2013 focused on energy development and the sagebrush songbird community and identified important patterns of avian response to natural gas development. Songbird abundance decreased slightly with increased well density. But even more importantly, the nesting success of all three sagebrush obligate species decreased with energy development in most years, which in the aggregate could exacerbate population declines. Nest success in this system is driven by nest predation. Yet, mechanisms underlying why nest predation rates increased in areas with energy development were unknown and critical to understand for effective mitigation measures. We identified nest predator species of songbird nests via 24-hour infrared video cameras in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline natural gas fields, and found that 75% of depredation events were by rodents (mice, chipmunks and ground squirrels). Moreover, rodent predators increased slightly in abundance across the same energy development gradient. However, deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) were only sampled in 2012 and can exhibit significant inter-annual population fluctuations. Moreover, patterns of nest predation in 2012 in relation to gas well density were mixed across species, and damped compared to previous years. An important next step is therefore to better understand whether the abundance of major nest predator species/guilds is consistently positively related to well densities in the surrounding landscape and consistently related to increased nest predation risk. If rodent predators are significantly more abundant in areas with higher well densities again in 2014, we will also examine alternative hypotheses for why.

We propose to continue to simultaneously monitor avian nest success, nest predation by different predators, and the abundance of nest predators across gradients in energy development, and test alternative hypotheses for why nest predation and the abundance of some important nest predator species increases with well density. In addition, with the construction of the proposed NPL gas field south of the Jonah Field we may have a unique opportunity (pending the timing of new well implementation) to conduct a before-after, control-impact (BACI) study of songbird abundance and nest success. This objective dovetails well with on-going WLCI efforts with other taxa and will clarify the extent to which songbird populations are impacted by gas wells versus other co-varying factors.

Our ultimate goal is to generate specific management and mitigation recommendations for limiting reproductive impacts to already declining sagebrush songbird populations.


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 102

Masters Students: 247

Phd Students: 163

Post Docs: 55

University Staff: 266

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 722

Scientific Publications: 1960

Presentations: 4355



Funding Agencies

  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Wyoming Game and Fish Department
  • Wyoming Wildlife - The Foundation


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