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Lucky Peak Project

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Hawkwatch View by P. KolarThe IBO’s longest-running and most well-known research and education effort (since 1993!) is a fall migration project located on the Boise Ridge (Lucky Peak). The Boise Ridge is one of only a few known locations in the western U.S. where great numbers of diurnal raptors, songbirds, and forest owls concentrate during fall migration due to the site’s unique geography and habitat mosaic. Lucky Peak is the southernmost tip of the Boise Ridge and the last place woodland birds have shelter and food before crossing over the 50+ miles of the Snake River Plain on their southbound migration. Understandably, many species of forest birds are hesitant to embark on this non-stop flight since cover, protection and food is almost non-existent across the barren plain. The habitat at Lucky Peak is a rich mosaic of montane forest, montane deciduous shrubs, and sage-steppe. Because of the topography and productive habitat, birds tend to “pile up” on Lucky Peak, fueling up in preparation for this crossing. This site presents a unique opportunity to study the migration biology of many different kinds of birds in one locality. Studies have identified important breeding and wintering areas, habitats used by migrants, and contributed to long-term population monitoring. IBO has published many peer-reviewed journal articles documenting the results of this research. Visit our IBO publications page to read some of the journal articles. We have developed year-round research, education, and volunteer involvement programs centered around this remarkable natural phenomenon. High priority also is given to promoting public wildlife viewing, environmental education, and community volunteer programs.

Click here to read how to visit Lucky Peak and the best times to visit for each project.

Last year we had around 1,500 visitors and 40+ school groups visit us. If you are part of a large group, please schedule your visit with us in advance. This ensures that you have the best experience possible.

Songbird Banding

AylaIBO mist-nets songbirds daily at Lucky Peak from July 16 to October 15 each year using a standard number of nets (10) and standard effort (nets are open from sunrise for 5 hours; weather permitting). We band between 4000-7500 Songbird Crewbirds of about 60 different species each autumn. Our research to date has found that the mosaic of habitats on the Boise Ridge, especially including the interface between deciduous shrubs and coniferous forest, provides an important migration stopover area for an abundance and variety of western migratory songbirds (check out our ‘Publications’ page for more detailed info).

MacGillivray's WarblerLucky Peak is a great place to see these birds up close and in the hand. Look for rare birds at Lucky Peak—our efforts have added at least one species to the state bird list and provided important records for other species rarely documented in the state.

Numbers and species diversity change throughout the season. Read about songbird migration timing at Lucky Peak.

Wilson's WarblerBird banding is important for monitoring populations, migratory patterns, survival and the behavior of birds. Check out this incredible recapture story from the Intermountain Bird Observatory! Wilson’s Warbler travels over 2000 miles in under 21 days!


Turkey Vultures flyingIBO has conducted counts of migrating raptors during fall in the Boise Foothills since 1993. We use standardized observation procedures which provides reliable population trend information on western raptor species. Data collected using methods standardized by HawkWatch International Inc. and the Hawk Migration Association of North America enables the easy integration with counts from other sites for analyses of regional and continental population trends.

IBO counts 5000-9000 raptors of 18 different species annually with substantial inter-annual variation for many species. We commonly count Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, and Turkey Vultures. But we also count other species like Northern Goshawk (late Sept/Oct), Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, Swainson’s Hawk, and Broad-winged Hawk (mid-Sept). Counts run from August 25- October 31. Daily counts generally begin at 10am and continue throughout the day until raptor flights cease, usually between 5-7 pm. September and the first week of October are the best dates to visit – and the peak flights are usually between 11 am and 5 pm.

Diurnal Raptor Banding


In 1994, IBO established long-term raptor banding projects to identify migration routes, wintering areas, breeding areas, and mortality factors. Raptor banding is conducted at Lucky Peak from the end of August through October. IBO bands approximately 1000 raptors each fall. Birds that are banded can be displayed at the hawkwatch site for public viewing when a group is present. It is a great opportunity to view the beauty and power of these birds on a personal level.

Peregrine releaseTo date, we have received 147 band encounters from raptors banded on the Boise Ridge. This provides useful information about migration direction as well as likely breeding and wintering locations. Many banded raptors have been encountered from the Boise area, but other recoveries have come from western Mexico, Baja California, southern California, Washington, and British Columbia.

Three general patterns are evident from studying Intermountain Bird Observatory band encounters:

Cooper's Hawk mid-winter recoveries of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks come from western Mexico
• mid-winter recoveries of Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels come from California’s Central Valley
• spring and summer recoveries of Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks come from as far north as central British Columbia.

See a map of where birds we banded in Idaho have ended up.

Owl Banding

Saw Whet OwlThe banding of migratory forest owls, primarily Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls, has been conducted at Lucky Peak since 1999.  Owl banding is from August 28- October 28, and nets are opened 30 min after sunset and closed 30 min before sunrise. To attract owls into mist nets, at each station we use an audio lure consisting of an mp3 player and remote speakers that broadcast “hooting” calls to attract Flammulated Owls and “solicitation” calls to attract Northern Saw-whet Owls into stations.Flammulated Owl

Over the course of the owl study, annual capture numbers have varied dramatically (75 to 902 owls captured in any given season). We have also caught Western screech-owls, Long-eared Owls, Northern Pygmy-Owls, and even a few Boreal Owls! Several graduate students have incorporated this research program into their thesis work by studying both Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls. You can read their resulting journal articles on our publications page. These cute little owls generate a lot of excitement. If you want to see Flammulated Owls plan on visiting in mid September (to maximize your chances). A great time for Northern Saw-whet Owls is mid-September to mid-October. We do our first net run about an hour after sunset, and then every 45-90 minutes after that (depending on how busy the night is), so plan to arrive accordingly. Also note, we can’t guarantee owl captures on any given night.

International Connections

A combination of factors has led to Intermountain Bird Observatory becoming an organization committed to providing opportunities for foreign biologists. The most important of these factors is ourwoman holding owl interest in building meaningful connections with biologists in countries where the birds we study in Idaho spend the winter (which includes anywhere from southern Idaho to southern South America) in the hope that we can enhance migratory bird conservation.

Beginning in 1997, IBO assisted with establishing the first raptor migration count site in northern Colombia. Colombian biologists and university students learned how to conduct standardized raptor migration counts and operate a banding station. The site was successfully funded and operated for several years. We assisted in the training of a total of four Colombian university students in raptor identification, counting and data recording techniques, capture and handling techniques, banding techniques, and data summary and reporting. Of these student in forestfour students, two were subsequently accepted into the international internship program at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. Both students then traveled to Boise, Idaho, and trained further with IBO in songbird mist netting, raptor counting, capture, and banding techniques, as well as forest owl banding on the Boise Ridge. One of these students returned to Colombia and established a passerine migration banding station along the northern coast of Colombia, the first project of its kind in the country’s history.

We have also hosted interns from Belgium, Hungary, Venezuela, and Argentina. One of our interns from Hungary received a doctorate degree studying migration stopover in Mississippi. Others have gone on to have successful careers in ornithology back in their home countries or abroad.

student with falconWe have developed a relationship with Fundacion Migres whose primary observatories are situated on the coast of Spain overlooking the Strait of Gibralter (although they have inland observatories also). Boise State’s Raptor Biology program and the Intermountain Birdtwo students sitting at table outside in forest Observatory have worked together to fund a Fall Migration Travel Award to a deserving masters students each year. 2011 was the first year of this award which allowed two master students to travel to Tarifa, Spain and spend three months working with Fundacion Migres learning about the population dynamics of migratory birds, the ecology of European raptors, and exchanging cultural experiences with the Spanish people. 2012 saw another recipient of this award. This collaboration is resulting in peer-reviewed manuscripts in scientific journals. We hope to continue this international connection in 2013 and into the future. We estimate needing about $3000/year in order to fund travel-related expenses for 2 international interns per year. If you would like to support IBO’s efforts in this regard, please consider donating to our program. Be sure to designate “IBO’s International Program” along with your donation to insure funds are routed to the correct project.

female student holding small birdThe University of Madrid has offered a travel grant most years since 2010 that sends one of their students to Boise to spend the three month season working at our Lucky Peak field station. Interns are involved in all aspects of our research including songbirds, hawks, and owls as well as our public education component.