A short film on the sparrow will be premiered Oct. 10 at Vesper Meadow
By Elva Manquera-DeShields
Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus) are found throughout the northern half of North America and Canada. One of its subspecies, the Oregon Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus affinis) is in the Pacific Northwest and can be found in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. Its breeding populations historically spanned from southwest British Columbia, through western Washington and Oregon, to northwestern California. Breeding Oregon Vesper Sparrows have been displaced from British Columbia and California, and their population has declined, losing more than 90% of the population from 1968-2015. The current population size is estimated to be fewer than 3,000 individuals. Due to these dramatic changes, this subspecies has been petitioned for listing as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Klamath Bird Observatory, along with other collaborators, is conducting field research to determine why this species is in decline, and what can be done to help this species recover. We are tackling this unique opportunity to study Oregon Vesper Sparrows together, throughout the breeding range, in order to develop strategies for stabilizing and recovering populations.
To help track where these little brown birds are traveling, we are using new technology, the Motus Wildlife Tracking System (MOTUS). MOTUS is a collaborative research network using automated radio-telemetry arrays to study the movements of small organisms like birds, bats and even insects. The tags emit a radio frequency that can be detected by a nearby Motus station anywhere in the world. Klamath Bird Observatory has put up two MOTUS towers in the Rogue Valley. In 2020, we installed the very first Motus station in Oregon at the Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve (vespermeadow.org), supported by Montana’s MPG Ranch (mpgranch.com).
These MOTUS towers plus the GPS backpacks are helping us track the Oregon Vesper Sparrows. In 2020, we were able to get our 10 GPS backpacks on birds at Howard Prairie. These GPS tags are very small and cannot hold powerful batteries, requiring us to recatch these birds in the following spring to see where they traveled. Out of the 10 birds sent out, four had returned to Howard Prairie in spring 2021. Those four birds provided valuable information about where the Oregon Vesper Sparrows overwinter and make pit stops. This year we were able to send out 15 new GPS backpacks and will be excited next year to see where these little sparrows traveled to. The Oregon Vesper Sparrow has never been tracked year-round before and this new information will help inform future conservation efforts.
To help us tell the story of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow, we are premiering the short film “From the Field — A Study of the Oregon Vesper Sparrow” by Daniel Thiede. This event will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10, at Vesper Meadow Restoration Preserve. This event, complete with refreshments and finger food, is free to with the public. It will include a short introduction to Vesper Meadow by Program Director Jeanine Moy, a presentation by Klamath Bird Observatory Biologist Dr. Sarah Rockwell, a short walk on uneven ground to the MOTUS tower, and a viewing of the film. This event is both outdoors and inside a barn; please wear warm layers. To register for the event, visit klamathbird.org/callnote/vesper-sparrow-video-premier/.
Elva Manquera-DeShields is Science Communication, Outreach & DEI Manager for Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.