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Colorado College students study Schriever’s falcons

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Although wildlife on and around the “little base on the prairie” seems scarce, if people were to roam the base’s acreage, they would see a landscape teeming with animal life.
Black-tailed prairie dogs peek out of their burrows; desert cottontails race across parking lots; and raptors nest in trees.

While a visit to Schriever Feb. 8 from a Colorado College group did not result in an encounter, it did offer an outdoor training environment for students to learn about great horned owls and other raptors.

“I teach several courses related to ecology, ornithology and biology of vertebrates,” said Brian Linkhart, an associate professor at Colorado College. “From spring to fall, I also conduct field research on the biology and ecology of forest raptors, especially owls.”

The group was looking for a variety of raptors, including red-tailed hawks, ferruginous hawks, prairie falcons, golden eagles and great horned owls, he said.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity for my ecology students to see some of the winter raptors that frequent the grasslands east of Colorado Springs,” Mr. Linkhart said. “In the past, I have noted several raptors visiting the prairie dog towns surrounding the base.”

On base, the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight has been recording great horned owl nesting sites for several years, said Melissa Trenchik, natural resources manager at Schriever.

“They have nested both within and outside of the secure area,” she said. “Last year, there was a pair within the secure area and they fledged two fledglings.”

Ms. Trenchik brought the students to a red-tailed hawk nesting site that was used the previous year.

Schriever is home to three nesting pairs of red-tailed hawks, said Ms. Trenchik.

“Mr. Linkhart was able to point out many things to the students such as the size of the structure and the materials used in the structure,“ she said. “Feathers and pellets—stuff that raptors can’t digest, that they hack up—found on the ground near the nest provided clues to help identify the species utilizing the nest.”

Although the group did not spot any winter raptors on this trip, they were able to study nesting sites and characteristics of the raptors’ preferred environment.

“We didn’t have too much success on this day, but a slow day birding is still a great day,” said Mr. Linkhart.

Ms. Trenchik said the visit was a good learning experience for her.

“I always look forward to having experts in any field visit the base,” she said. “Learning from someone with such a great deal of knowledge and experience helps me do my job better.”