We have breeding locations!

After months of waiting, our birds Kansas 01 and 02 have started their fall migration back to their wintering areas in Kansas. We now know where each bird breeds, and we can tell a bit about each just from this knowledge.

Surprisingly, both birds breed in an area of northern British Columbia, in a glacial valley on the western side of the front range. To me, this is perhaps the most surprising part of the story. Both birds follow a very east/west migration path that includes a flight over the mountains, rather than tracing ridge lines in a more north/south direction. Very peculiar, but enlightening!

The birds appeared to have nested, and it looks like our birds are one male and one female. Check out the image below that indicates that within reason, both did indeed breed, because of the central orientation of the movements. For both images, I filtered the dates for the locations to include 6 June to 6 July, and cropped each at the same dimensions and altitude, so they represent approximately the same coverage of geographic area. Focus on the dots, and ignore the lines and you can tell the clustering is quite different for the two during this time period.

These clusters suggest that KAHA 01 (red) is likely a male, while KAHA 02 (purple) is likely a female. From the distribution of the spread during particular times, we can tell that KAHA 02 was probably incubating, and the breadth of the movements of KAHA 01 suggest it was making foraging movements quite regularly throughout the summer. We do have blood samples from each so we have the ability to check for certain if these are a male and a female.

What subspecies are these birds? Does this answer the question of whether or not the subspecies abieticola has a dark morph? The short answer is that it is complicated, and at the moment it does not answer the question of polymorphism in abieticola. This is for two reasons – the first being that this region is a contact zone between as many as four taxa – calurus, harlani, abieticola, and borealis. Thus, the genetic work will be crucial for figuring out where these two birds fit in these categories, if they fit at all!

To solve the subspecies question, we need to put out more transmitters!

Special thanks to the organizations that made this work possible: Burroughs Audubon Society, Kansas Ornithological Society, and the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA).

6 thoughts on “We have breeding locations!

  1. Not a particularly difficult trip over the mountains in that area. I don’t have the precise coordinates but it seems like they crossed the Rockies in the vicinity of the Peace River or Pine Pass. The Peace is the only river that flows eastward through the Rockies, and the Pine Pass (Hwy 97) is the lowest pass through the Rockies. Have a look on Google Earth and there are many fewer snow-capped mountains in that area. I live just a bit to the east (on the migration path) and will watch for birds with antennae next spring! NIce for us in northern BC to see where some of our hawks go for the winter.


    1. Hi Mark. I have noticed the relative break in the range in that region. From the tracks, it doesn’t look like the birds followed the river through the mountains, but rather flew directly over some of the peaks. Either way, it will be fun to see if we can tag a few more that are similar and see if they follow the same path and are from the same region. Keep an eye out for our birds this spring! They won’t have an antennae, but if you take some photos you might be able to pick out the unit on their back. Thanks for the comment!


  2. We seem to have an abundance of birds that winter here in the rosebud valley of southeast Montana are there any tracking stations? Or are you interested in adding any? I would love to assist with locations or something. (Landowner)


    1. Hi April,

      We haven’t done any work in that area. I can imagine there are a number of good birds there, so perhaps we should! Our tracking devices function through the cell network, so they don’t need any tracking stations. Let us know if you have any ideas!


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