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

The prairie in Colorado is home to a lot of cool wildlife.

This is the story of how Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Avian Research and Wildlife Health Programs teamed up with partners to study and test a new plague vaccine and improve habitat for endangered black-footed ferrets and other wildlife. Avian Researchers have documented the benefits of maintaining active prairie dog colonies for many species such as ferruginous hawks, golden eagles, various grassland songbirds, coyotes, and badgers.


Led By

Reesa Conrey​ and Dan Tripp (CPW), with Arvind Panjabi and Erin Youngberg (Bird Conservancy of the Rockies)

Study Area

Larimer, Weld, Saguache and Teller counties; Gunnison Basin

Project Status


Research Objective

  • To determine how  plague and plague management on prairie dog colonies affect associated avian communities and their predators.​

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 developed a plague oral vaccination program.

In Colorado, CPW Wildlife Health researchers surveyed colonies before and after treatment of prairie dog colonies to measure effects on prairie dog survival. Treatments included 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 and plague management on bird species associated with prairie dog colonies, such as burrowing owls and mountain plovers.

Avian 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, predator usage, and vegetation characteristics in treated and untreated ar​eas 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.​​