Texas Ornithological Society Awards Grant to the Borderlands Research Institute

Borderlands Research Institute

Shown above are two species of sparrow that overwinter in the Chihuahuan Desert and are in decline: the grasshopper sparrow (left) and Baird’s sparrow (right). The new grant from TOS will help us continue our research on these birds.

ALPINE TX – The Texas Ornithological Society has awarded a $6,000 grant to the Borderlands Research Institute (BRI) to purchase radio transmitters for a grassland bird research project. Grassland bird populations that winter in the Chihuahuan Desert have declined by about 75% since 1966, and BRI researchers are trying to determine why.

The focus of this particular study are two species of sparrows that spend the winter in northern Mexico and the southern United States. BRI students have been tracking Baird’s and grasshopper sparrows in the Marfa grasslands since 2016. The project is a collaborative effort with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Dixon Water Foundation and the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

“We’re pleased to support this project and the work the Borderlands Research Institute is doing to learn more about these grassland birds,” said Texas Ornithological Society President Shelia Hargis. “This research aligns perfectly with our mission of promoting the discovery, knowledge, observation and conservation of birds in Texas.”

The tiny radio transmitters weigh about 0.03 ounces and 33 will be purchased this year with this funding. Researchers capture birds using an active mist-netting approach. They place mist nets in dense patches of grass and with the help of volunteers, flush the birds towards the nets. The researchers then band the birds and place a transmitter on their back. Student researchers and technicians then follow the birds during the winter to track information on causes of mortality and habitat use and preferences. The third field season will be completed in March.

“We appreciate the Texas Ornithological Society’s support of this project,” said Dr. Louis Harveson, who is the Dan Allen Hughes, Jr., BRI Endowed Director and professor of Wildlife Management at Sul Ross State University. “They not only provide funds for needed research equipment, their members are also actively involved as volunteers in the field.”