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Avian Response to Plague Management on Colorado Prairie Dog Colonies
Avian Response to Plague Management on Colorado Prairie Dog Colonies

​​​​​​​​​​​Led By

Reesa Conrey​ and Dan Tripp (CPW), with Arvind Panjabi and Erin Youngberg (Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory)

Study Area

Larimer, Weld and Teller counties; Gunnison Basin

Project Status

Ongoing

Research Objectives

  • To determine if plague management on prairie dog colonies affect associated avian communities.

  • To determine whether avian species associations exist for Gunnison's prairie dog colonies, as they do for black-tailed prairie dog colonies.

Project Description

In recent decades, prairie dog population declines have been attributed to high mortality rates associated with plague. Prairie dog colonies support a diverse community of species, many of which are not susceptible to plague but may be indirectly affected. As a result, researchers in several western states have been working to develop and test a plague vaccination program.

In Colorado, CPW researchers are surveying colonies before and after treatment of prairie dog colonies to measure effects on prairie dog survival. Treatments include plague vaccine, placebo, insecticidal dusting for fleas (a major vector of plague), and colonies receiving no treatment. As an extension of this project, the avian research section initiated a project to determine the effects of plague management on bird species associated with prairie dog colonies, such as burrowing owls and mountain plovers.

Researchers are surveying birds, vegetation, and mammalian predators found in and around colonies of both black-tailed and Gunnison's prairie dogs. Researchers will compare bird densities, nest survival, and vegetation characteristics in treated and untreated areas and in randomly-located off-colony locations.​

The results from this study will inform plague management programs and produce a standardized protocol for monitoring species associated with prairie dog colonies that could be used state-wide.

Associated Publications 

Conrey, R. Y. 2010. Breeding success, prey use, and mark-resight estimation of burrowing owls nesting on black-tailed prairie dog towns: plague affects a non-susceptible raptor. Ph.D. Dissertation, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.​​