Movement Ecology & Wind Energy

“When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of genius; lift up thy head!” – William Blake

Like William Blake and so many others for centuries, I am fascinated and inspired by the flight of eagles (Golden Eagles in particular). As a hydrologist I have a keen interest in the effects of topography in natural systems, and thus I find the interaction of topography and raptor flight to be a particularly compelling area of research. How and why migrating eagles choose a particular route through mountainous terrain (e.g. the Appalachian Mountain chain or the mountains of Wyoming) are questions that I have been able to shed some light upon through the application of individual-based mechanistic models based loosely on principles of fluid flow.

For the past 15 years I have spent much of my research time working to better understand and quantitatively model how golden eagle flight is influenced by terrain and weather conditions during migration. This work is particularly relevant because wind energy development is rapidly expanding throughout North America, particularly in areas used extensively by golden eagles. They are known to be vulnerable to turbine strikes at some wind farms in the western US. Currently I have a joint appointment with NREL collaborating on a Wyoming-based project “Predicting Golden Eagle Interactions with Wind Farms”. Other important collaborators include scientists from USGS, Conservation Science Global, and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

In related work funded by NASA, formerly I was part of a multidisciplinary team of researchers working to develop new analysis and modeling tools for use with telemetry data on animal movements from regional to continental scales. See the Movebank website here. This project led to some research with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary on the migration of Turkey Vultures. Although a bit homely to look at, they are among the most efficient soaring birds in the world, capable of using very weak thermals and updrafts to fuel their movements across the landscape.

Link to the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group EGEWG facebook page.

Link to my collaborators at Conservation Science Global.

Link to Tussey Mountain Spring Eaglewatch, which I started while doing my Ph.D. at Penn State in civil engineering many years ago.

Link to the Raptor Population Index project, where I am an active member of the steering committee.