Tag Archives: bird conservation

Randy Dettmers shares a bird caught during a mist netting demonstration at Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge with a local high school student .

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Randy Dettmers

A few undergraduate semesters spent writing code in dark and dreary basements provided enough evidence for Randy Dettmers that computer science was not the career path he was destined to follow. This valuable lesson paired with his general interests in biology and conservation blossomed into a career revolving around the protection of wildlife species, where his interests were able to take flight.

Randy Dettmers shares a bird caught during a mist netting demonstration at Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge with a local high school student .

Dr. Randy Dettmers introduces a local high school student to bird conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Today Dettmers is a senior wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service focusing on neotropical migrants, songbirds, and raptors. He’s been with the Service since 1999, and has spent all 16 of those years with the Migratory Bird program.

As the designated landbird biologist, Dettmers’ job is to follow population trends of landbirds. He tracks which species are declining most rapidly and heading toward the point where they may need to be considered for endangered species listing.

“My job is to identify the species that are headed in the wrong direction and try to develop management plans to get those species heading in a better direction,” he says. Dettmers also fosters relationships with the Service’s various conservation partners, federal and state agencies, and NGOs. These groups help implement management activities to supplement those developed by the Service.

Randy Dettmers conducting a Bicknell's Thrush survey on Mt. Osceola in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

Dettmers conducts a Bicknell’s thrush survey on Mt. Osceola in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Credit: USFWS

Currently much of Dettmers time has been focused on the Bicknell’s thrush, a bird that breeds in the mountains of New England and Eastern Canada and migrates to the Dominican Republic and Haiti during the winter months. Significant deforestation in the Caribbean has severely limited the wintering habitat available to this species. Studies have documented Bicknell’s thrush population declines of 7% in the White Mountains of New Hampshire from 1993-2000 and 15% in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia from 2002-2009.

“In the Dominican Republic, the estimates tell us that they have about 10 percent of the forest cover that they did historically, and even less than that on the Haiti side of the island.”

While parts of the Bicknell’s thrush habitat in New England and Canada currently remain protected through national forests and state parks, Dettmers’ has been working with the Dominican government to expand that progress in the southern portion of the bird’s range.

“We’ve developed a conservation plan that addresses continuing to protect a lot of Bicknell thrush habitat and the breeding ground,” he says.

credit Chris Elphick

Scientists track a Nelson’s sparrow and a saltmarsh sparrow at Barn Island in Conn., part of the Hurricane Sandy-funded tidal marsh bird resilience research project.  Credit: Chris Elphick/Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

In addition to his work with the Migratory Bird program, Dettmers also serves as the project officer for a $1.5 million Hurricane Sandy-funded project involving the Service’s Migratory Bird and Refuges programs, as well as five universities across the Northeast. The project goal is to monitor the response of birds that breed in salt marshes that have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Project partners also monitor the birds’ response to the coastal resilience work being done across the region, especially on national wildlife refuges.

“The project is looking at how both the abundance and reproductive success of saltmarsh birds changed from before to after Sandy, and is in the process of tracking how birds respond to the coastal resilience work being implemented in saltmarshes,” Dettmers says.

In between managing projects that conserve neotropical bird populations, Randy finds time to lead demonstrations in bird banding techniques. A recent bird education mission took Dettmers to Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Here, he led a trip for nine local high school girls, teaching bird banding and mist netting techniques with fellow wildlife biologist, Mitch Hartley.

Students help dismantle bird nets at the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Dettmers teaches students how to dismantle bird nets at the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

“We look for opportunities to give demonstrations of how we go about catching birds and banding them, and how we use the information to understand their life history and the things that are affecting the populations,” says Dettmers. He says he believes it’s a worthy experience for a child or high school student to see a bird up close, in the palm of their hand. And through his research and expertise, he has made this experience possible for many curious young scientists.

In his 16 years as wildlife biologist, Dettmers has applied his knowledge of wildlife and conservation to make a difference for many bird species.

“I get to focus on trying to identify species with populations that are declining, and for most of them, we still have time to do something about their decline before they get to the point of maybe becoming an endangered species.” – Dr. Randy Dettmers

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches high school girls about bird conservation techniquest at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge.

Students Meet Birds: Curiosity Takes Flight

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been working on conservation of neotropical migrant bird populations for 20 years. Several times a year, Dettmers and Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist, teach youth and adults about wildlife techniques to conserve bird populations. Last month, they led nine girls on an hour-long workshop teaching avian wildlife conservation skills including “mist-netting” birds to capture and band them, in support of research and monitoring efforts.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute's Young Women in Science program.

Dr. Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, places a black-capped chickadee ready for release into the gentle hands of a curious high school student from Flying Cloud Institute’s Young Women in Science program. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

The ninth through eleventh graders were attending a week-long science camp themed “Young Women in Science” through Flying Cloud Institute. The students came from schools in Massachusetts and New York including: Great Barrington (Monument Mountain Regional High School), Sheffield (Mount Everett Regional High School), Lee (Lee Middle and High School), Pittsfield (Miss Hall’s, a private school)and one from Hawthorne Valley, a private Waldorf school in Hillsdale, New York. Here are Dettmers’ field notes from the training experience:

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, teaches young high school students avian conservation techniques at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge this past summer.

Dr. Mitch Hartley, wildlife biologist at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (pictured far right), teaches young high school students about bird conservation techniques at Conte Refuge this past summer. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

On a sunny summer day at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge along the Fort River in Hadley, Massachusetts, myself and fellow wildlife biologist Mitch Hartley led nine girls from the Flying Cloud Institute under instructor Susan Cooper into the 260 acres of grasslands and forest of a former dairy farm. Our goal was to introduce these curious students to the skills of safely capturing birds to record data that will be used later to understand bird movements, survival rates, and life histories. Fortunately, we were able to lure and capture two birds in the nets by playing a series of bird calls by portable speaker nearby — which attracted a mature female yellow warbler and black-capped chickadee, common species native to the area. We then showed the girls how to measure and record necessary data on each bird, attaching bands to their legs, and allowed the students to release them back into their natural habitat.  

Dr. Randy Dettmers shows bird age identification techniques to high school girls from the Flying Cloud Institute at Conte Refuge.

Dr. Randy Dettmers demonstrates bird monitoring techniques to high school girls at Conte Refuge. Credit: Margie Brenner/USFWS

Within the Service, the Migratory Bird Program works to track the status of migratory birds, identify species in need of conservation attention, and coordinate actions to protect and restore those species.  Banding and other monitoring techniques are important tools for understanding the population trends and status of migratory birds.  It is always valuable to share this part of our work with young biologists so that they can see, first-hand, what this work entails and have opportunities for direct interaction with some of the wildlife we strive to conserve for the benefit of the American people.  Making those connections is an important part of what we do, and we are always looking for opportunities to provide demonstrations or talk about what we do, whether it be talking to early elementary school groups about how birds build nests and why robins eat worms, to banding demonstrations such as with this high school group, or teaching bird monitoring techniques as part of college courses.  Reaching out to these different groups of young people to share the work we do and why we do it helps the next generation to understand that there are science-based career options in wildlife biology and conservation.

It’s exciting to share the field of wildlife biology with young minds, especially curious high school girls, showing them the tools we as biologists use for bird conservation such as mist netting, banding, taking measurements, and monitoring.  It’s rewarding to see the interest and enthusiasm they show when we take them into the field, handle equipment like mist nests, and give them an opportunity to hold a live bird.  It is a great experience for all of us.  – Randy Dettmers, wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Latino Conservation Week! Engage, Experience, Advocate

This week, the Service is taking part in Latino Conservation Week, an initiative spurred by the Hispanic Access Foundation to support the Latino community in efforts to get outdoors and participate in the conservation of our natural resources. Latino communities, faith-based organizations and local partner organizations will hike, camp, and paddle, learn about conservation in their community, and show their support for the protection of our land, water, air, and wildlife.


  • provide Latino families and youth with outdoor recreation opportunities near their homes
  • demonstrate the Latino community’s commitment to conservation
  • partner with Hispanic community leaders and organizations to support local and national conservation initiatives
  • inform policymakers, the media, and the general public of the Latino community’s views on important local and national conservation issues

In celebration of Latino Conservation Week, we’ll be highlighting the activities of Service staff and programs that have engaged, educated and advocated for Latino participation in conservation.

Pablo gazes through the spotting scope at shorebirds on the Rhode Island coast.

Pablo Andres Montes Goitia, international conservation fellow from Uruguay, gazes through a spotting scope looking at shorebirds on the Rhode Island coast. Pablo joined another international conservation fellow and shorebird biologist and doctoral candidate, Pam Loring, during field work for her Atlantic seabird and wind turbine study.

This summer, our Northeast regional office in Hadley, Massachusetts had the pleasure of hosting Alberto Martinez Fernandez and Pablo Andres Montes Goitia, international conservation fellows from Mexico and Uruguay. Alberto and Pablo joined our staff in the field and in our regional office, and engaged with the many science-based, partnership and regulatory aspects of our organization. Alberto works for Orígenes Conservación de Especies y Espacios A.C. in Chiapas, Mexico as a biologist and field ornithologist. His recent work in Cloud Forest restoration engaged the local community to participate in habitat restoration efforts across the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Pablo joined us from the National Directorate of the Environment (DINAMA) in Uruguay. As a biologist and project manager, he has participated in the design and implementation of public policy and plans to kickstart a conservation NGO with other Latin American colleagues.

Alberto and Pablo joined University of Massachusetts Amherst doctoral student, Pam Loring, in the deployment of nanotag tracking devices used to track offshore movement of piping plovers (Charadrius melodus) on the Rhode Island coast. The results from this pilot study will demonstrate the utility of nanotag technology to track shorebird movements, and will be used by federal agencies, such as the Service and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, to inform conservation decision making in marine spatial planning.

Alberto observes as biologists apply a nanotag to a piping plover. Nanotags are lightweight (less than three grams) digital VHF transmitters used to track offshore and coastal movements of shorebirds.

Check back this week for updates on Latin American partnerships and youth education as we continue to commemorate Latino commitment to conservation!