ESU student breaks ground on broad-winged hawks

| 16 Sep 2015 | 03:46

— Using satellites to track broad-winged hawks is just one part of East Stroudsburg University (ESU) graduate student Rebecca McCabe's ground-breaking research on this species over the last three years.

Beginning as an intern at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, Rebecca studied with Terry Master, Ph.D., in 2014. Her thesis research expanded from Hawk Mountain and southeastern Pennsylvania to include the Pocono Plateau as she compared nesting behavior between the fragmented habitat in the south and the larger, forested landscapes of the Poconos.

The project is based at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and supervised by Laurie Goodrich, Ph.D., senior monitoring biologist. It has attracted crowd-funding grants from the Pennsylvania Game Commission (State Wildlife Grant), Pennsylvania Audubon, private donors, and a faculty development research-sponsored major leveraging grant from ESU to fund the Poconos portion of the project.

Student interns include undergraduates Randy Farley, a junior from Hardwick, N.J., majoring in Environmental Studies, and Cassie Baun, a senior majoring in biology from Nazareth, Pa. They conducted observations using remote cameras and GIS-based land cover photographs, and use satellite transmitters to track migratory pathways and movements on their wintering grounds in the neotropics.

A 11,000-mile journeyDuring 2014-15, an adult named Abbo was tracked from her nesting site in southeastern Pennsylvania to wintering habitat in Peru and Brazil and back to a new nesting site in Berks County this spring — traveling a total distance of 11,000 miles. This year, the solar-powered transmitters, each costing thousands of dollars, have been attached to four adults, three of them from the Poconos. Locations are determined on alternate days, resulting in a map showing the birds' movements that can be accessed at

One of the three Pocono birds, Pocono Penny, chose the ropes course at Stony Acres as her nesting site.

Thanks to the stewardship of Program Coordinator Madeline Constantine and the Stony Acres staff, disturbance from visiting groups was limited, resulting in a successful nesting season for Penny. This is only the second study using satellite transmitters on individuals of this species, but is much more extensive and provides more frequent location data on more birds as they travel to and from the neotropics.

Broad-winged hawks are common breeders in Pennsylvania and among the most common passage migrants during the fall at eastern hawk-watch sites like Hawk Mountain. However, their nesting population has declined by 16 percent in the last 20 years, according to intensive statewide surveys.

Observation and tracking data will provide new insights into the natural history of this hawk, highlight its conservation needs, and be incorporated into a management plan to halt the ongoing population decline.

For more information contact Dr. Master at 570-422-3709 or