Moving can be tough, but eventually most of us acclimate to new surroundings.

That’s true for humans, and research from Washington State University shows it’s the same for sage-grouse too.

A team of scientists successfully moved sage-grouse, a threatened bird species in Washington state, from one area of their range to another to increase their numbers and diversify their gene pool. A WSU study shows relocating the birds is a viable and productive step towards helping their population recover.

“In the first year after moving sage-grouse in, they tended to move around a lot and didn’t reproduce as effectively as the native population,” said Kyle Ebenhoch, a researcher now working at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “It took them about a year to settle in and get used to their new surroundings.”

Ebenhoch wanted to investigate how newly introduced sage-grouse would survive and reproduce in order to determine if relocating birds to the area could be a workable way of keeping the species from further decline in Washington.

It turns out, the birds can adjust, though the training center population continued to decline.

“The birds did adjust to their new surroundings, but it didn’t stabilize the population,” Ebenhoch said. “This can be one tool in our toolbox for helping, but we’ll need more research to find other tools as well.”

The relocated birds, brought in from populations in Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada from 2004–2006 and 2014–2016, were fixed with radio-transmitting collars so Ebenhoch and his colleagues could track their movements and see if they survived in their new area.

Due to several factors, mostly human-caused like agriculture habitat conversion or wildfire, populations of sage-grouse in Washington have shrunk and become fragmented. There are four central and eastern Washington areas where the birds live, but they can’t intermix because these areas are too far away from each other. That leads to inbreeding and less genetic diversity at each area, potentially increasing diseases and abnormalities, which are important factors that biologists monitor when conserving rare or declining wildlife.

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